World Menopause Day 2022: Celebrating progress on the road to raising awareness

3:45 pm on 18 October 2022
Wellington writer Sarah Connor is the creator of the Menopause over Martinis initiative.

Sarah Connor, who runs the grassroots project Menopause Over Martinis, says discussions around the stage of life are improving but too many people still tell her they've had their menopausal symptoms dismissed by GPs. Photo: Supplied / Nicola Edmonds

By Sarah Connor*

Opinion - Four years ago, at age 45, I landed in perimenopause without knowing what that was. Over a confusing and worrying few months, perimenopause impacted every aspect of my health.

Three and a half years ago, I hosted a potluck dinner for friends and family from various generations to talk about this normal and inevitable stage of life that had been so hidden. To celebrate feeling well again, I called that and subsequent dinners Menopause Over Martinis and the name stuck. The martinis were (and still are) obviously optional.

Two years ago, on World Menopause Day 2020, I created a website to share what I wish I'd known sooner, and my idea of talking about menopause and mid-life over dinner. I also started a public Facebook group to keep the conversation going through Covid-19. The group has since grown to 2,500+ members.

Eighteen months ago, I spoke to a group of staff in a government organisation about menopause. Forty people of all ages and genders turned up - in person and online - to listen, learn about menopause, ask questions and share their stories. People left feeling empowered and grateful; informed, seen and heard.

I've since facilitated many conversations about menopause for workplaces all over Aotearoa - in person and virtually - with as many as 270 people tuning in to one event.

The benefits to organisations are many, including: The attraction and retention of valuable and experienced talent; the reduced cost of recruitment; the fostering of diversity and inclusion; improved health, well-being and performance.

The feedback from workplaces has been overwhelmingly positive and as another World Menopause Day rolls around on 18 October, I can say with a sense of satisfaction that the tide has started to turn. People are talking about menopause more and learning how to manage the impacts of fluctuating hormones on their minds, bodies, relationships, and work.

Here's what's changed in the past two years:

  • Two of New Zealand's best-known publishers have launched books about menopause (This Changes Everything by Niki Bezzant, Penguin Random House NZ, and Don't Sweat It by Nicky Pellegrino, Allen & Unwin), this year alone
  • Several New Zealand podcasts about menopause, mid-life and women ageing positively have been made
  • More advocates and GPs with a specialist interest in menopause have joined the campaign for change
  • More information and menopause experts have been featured in the media
  • More workplaces are acknowledging menopause and understanding the benefits of supporting their people through it

As a result, more people are comfortable saying the word 'menopause' out loud instead of in a whisper - at home, at work, and in the community.

More people are aware of the range of 34+ symptoms that can impact people cognitively, physically, and psychologically before and/or after the average age of menopause, 52, when someone hasn't had a period for at least 12 months.

More people know that 80 percent of people experience moderate or severe symptoms that can kick off anytime from someone's late 30s or early 40s and last from one - 10 years; and that one in 10 women aged 45-55 have left their job due to those symptoms, while a further 25 percent have considered leaving their job.

More people are seeing menopause for what it is: a normal, inevitable, temporary and important stage of life, and the beginning of a new chapter; a second spring or third act. Life after menopause should be something to look forward to.

Menopause is becoming less taboo and fewer people going through it are feeling alone. But we have a long way to go.

I've received dozens of concerning emails and read hundreds of eye-opening posts from members of my public Facebook group. Some stories have been heart-warming; too many have been heart breaking.

I've had people tell me they've experienced such heavy periods (flooding) at work that they've had to sit on towels in meetings. Some people call in sick for the same reason without knowing they should talk to their GP about possible solutions. Some people's perimenopausal anxiety can be so high and their mood so low that they can have suicidal thoughts.

A senior executive told me once that her perimenopausal symptoms saw her close to quitting her job. She ended up talking to her manager and team, who were very supportive. She got the help she needed from a menopause specialist and is now performing at her best again.

Too many people tell me they've had their menopausal symptoms dismissed or have been refused solutions they've needed after plucking up the courage to talk to their GP. This is not OK. Everyone has a right to understand their changing minds and bodies at any stage of life. Everyone deserves to know their options if needed.

Understanding menopause is not just an issue for women and people going through it. Many men are understandably struggling to come to terms with it, at the same time as desperately wanting to support their partner, friends, employees, and colleagues. It explains why they're keen to be part of conversations about it at work.

Everyone needs to know the basics. Most people want to know what to say and do; and what not to say and do. Everyone's experience and needs are different, so I recommend that people ask someone, 'Are you OK? Is there anything I can do to help?' One person might need assurance that talking about menopause is OK; another person might need a later start one day after too many nights of broken sleep.

Sharing my experience of perimenopause publicly was a big step outside my pre-menopausal comfort zone, but it was and continues to be incredibly rewarding.

I started talking about menopause to support my own health and well-being through perimenopause. But now I talk and write about it on behalf of everyone.

As historian and author Sarah Knott says, "After all, we come to know our bodies only through the means that culture allows".

Culture needs to change so that women and people in mid-life can continue to be the active and valuable participants in society we know they can and want to be.

Anyone in the world is welcome to join the revolution; to keep the conversation going.

One day our tamariki will grow up learning about menopause at home and school, just like they learn about puberty and pregnancy. One day every GP and health practitioner will be trained, resourced, and have time to address different people's needs through menopause. One day every workplace will know how to support its people through this stage of life too.

Until then, and especially on World Menopause Day - 18 October - and through World Menopause Month (October), be curious and compassionate. Say the word 'menopause' out loud, and with respect, to someone you haven't before. Or wish a friend a Happy World Menopause Day. You can be sure that your efforts will make a difference to someone.

Where to get help:

Anyone needing tautoko (support) for anything that impacts their well-being can free call or text 1737 to talk to or text with a trained counsellor or peer support worker.

For menopause advice and support, talk to a GP with an interest in menopause or your local menopause clinic.

*Sarah Connor is a freelance writer, guest speaker, advocate, and founder of grassroots project Menopause Over Martinis.

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