Lack of information about menopause a ‘huge injustice’ to women – campaigner

Menopause has been a ‘taboo’ health topic for too long, mental health webinar hears

Breeda Bermingham, founder of the Midlife Women Rock Project, said women facing menopause have been ‘overlooked’. Photograph: Tara Donoghue Photography

Breeda Bermingham, founder of the Midlife Women Rock Project, said women facing menopause have been ‘overlooked’. Photograph: Tara Donoghue Photography

 

The dearth of information available about menopause and its symptoms is a “huge injustice” to women, a campaigner for midlife women’s health has said.

Breeda Bermingham, founder of the Midlife Women Rock Project, said women facing menopause have been “overlooked”, but the conversation is starting to open up.

It was her own experience of confusing physical and psychological changes in midlife that led Ms Bermingham to burrow into research about menopause and its predecessor, perimenopause.

“Access to information is a huge problem. Women do not know what is happening to them, and I was one of those women,” Ms Bermingham told a webinar hosted by St Patrick’s Mental Health Services.

For too long menopause has been a “taboo” health topic, she said. It has been shrouded in silence and shame, and women are doing each other a “massive disservice” by not talking about it, she said. Women in the United Kingdom have made greater strides in this area and “shifted the narrative” around menopause because they are speaking up, said Ms Bermingham.

“I believe we are the generation to break that silence … There is no reason to be ashamed of being a menopausal woman in 2021.”

Ms Berminham said she is “delighted” the Government seems to be responding to recent calls for menopause supports. Earlier this month the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, announced he would seek to establish specialist menopause clinics across the State that will form part of a “new approach to menopause care for women in Ireland”.

‘Knock-on effect’

Also speaking at the event was Dr Caoimhe Hartley, who recently established the Menopause Health clinic to provide a dedicated medical service for women going through perimenopause (which tends to take effect during a woman’s mid-40s) or menopause.

The surgery has been “really busy” since it opened, she said, attributing some of this activity to recent attention paid to the subject of women’s midlife health.

“Menopause itself is just the final menstrual period,” she explained. As a woman’s body ceases ovulating, the production of hormones oestrogen and progesterone falls, which has a “knock-on effect” on a woman’s mind and body, she said.

A significant amount of oestrogen has been “waxing and waning” in a woman’s body since adolescence, she said. It has significant psychological effects, while progesterone can affect mood and the ability to sleep. Women are approximately three times more likely to experience depression or anxiety during the menopausal period, she said.

The level of disruption varies from person to person, she said, adding: “For some women it is not going to have a big impact on their quality of life, but for other women it has a detrimental impact.”

Women should feel confident to speak to their close support network about their experiences, Dr Hartley said. If further support is needed, a woman can speak to her general practitioner, who may prescribe hormone replacement therapy or recommend lifestyle changes, such as improving diet, sleep and exercise, she said.