Menopause has largely remained a taboo subject, but Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, addressed it head on this week when "menopause leave" was introduced for staff at London's City Hall. Khan told UK Metro he was hoping its introduction would "show that a workplace discussion about menopause is normal and we can remove the stigma around those experiencing it".
The leave will allow staff to request “suitable workplace adjustments” such as flexibility, time off to attend medical appointments and work task adjustments when staff are experiencing symptoms. It’s a step forward in recognition of a health issue which affects half the world’s population. Are there any plans to follow suit here in Ireland?
Although women make up 60 per cent of the Civil Service workforce, there are "no plans to introduce menopause leave in the Civil Service", according to a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. "Whilst there is no leave for menopause, we support women through the Civil Service Employee Assistance Service [CSEAS]. The CSEAS recently held a Civil Service-wide webinar on menopause at work and is in the process of establishing a Menopause in the Workplace working group."
Author and associate consultant with Henpicked (menopauseintheworkplace.co.uk) Breeda Birmingham says she's "more in favour of education and support before women actually need to leave work. The silence around this highly significant transition in women's lives has left far too many women in limbo."
Birmingham welcomes Khan’s discussions on the subject and says “politicians highlighting the importance of the menopause in the UK are helping the conversations become mainstream and normalised”.
The symptoms that arise with menopause can be quite debilitating
Psychotherapist and mother of three, Diane O'Neill, would love to see Ireland follow Khan's lead on the introduction of menopause leave. "I believe the impact on women's mental health would be very positive," she says. "The symptoms that arise with menopause can be quite debilitating, slowly eating away at one's sense of self and the woman she once was. The stress of feeling like this and having to turn up for work, psychologically puts unnecessary pressure emotionally and physically on us, which in turn can knock self-esteem and confidence over time in the ability to be fully present for work."
O’Neill says “being able to share and openly talk about how you’re feeling in the workplace around menopause would help women feel much more validated and understood, and less abnormal or not feeling they’re going mad altogether”.
O’Neill, who is experiencing peri-menopause, says: “It’s a struggle some days to get through my basic daily duties, without even thinking of work. Days not feeling myself do impact my ability to do my job properly.
“If this approach was taken by employers, personally I would feel way less pressure to turn up for work when I wouldn’t be functioning at my best.”
I do wonder if it was men and they needed testosterone, would it be taken more seriously?
A shortage of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) medicines here is a further compounding factor for women seeking to ease symptoms. “The patches, the gels are in short supply and it is traumatic for women,” says pharmacist Laura Dowling. “It can take a number of months to find a dose that actually really suits and grasps all the symptoms and makes a woman feel like her old self again.
“Usually once she makes a decision that she needs HRT, she has suffered from symptoms for a number of months, if not a number of years.” Having established a suitable dose and to then find it is in short supply is “absolutely traumatic. I have women coming into me, phoning me, begging me for patches.”
This shortage is not a new problem, Dowling says, adding that it happens frequently. She notes, also, that HRT is expensive with a significant difference between the cost of HRT and other treatments, including erectile dysfunction medications.
“Women have suppressed the menopause for years, they’ve just put up with horrific symptoms. People often think the hot flashes are the worst thing… in actual fact hot flashes are way down the list of problematic symptoms. The high priority symptoms are the panic attacks, fatigue, mood swings, depression, not wanting to get out of bed, the low libido, the dry vaginal area. I do wonder if it was men and they needed testosterone, would it be taken more seriously?”