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Recognising mental health symptoms of menopause

12th Oct 2022
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Menopause has become less of a taboo topic over recent years, thanks to high-profile campaigns to tackle the stigma and businesses getting on board with better support for their people.

However, while normalising the conversation around menopause has encouraged people to seek help and support, there is still more to be done when it comes to recognising symptoms and understanding how they impact individuals, especially in the workplace.

Last year, we launched our Bupa Menopause Plan, to our customers and our own Bupa people. From this, we have collected a year’s data that shows women are struggling to get accurate information and support. The most severe symptoms people reported were physical and mental exhaustion, sleep problems and psychological issues, such as depressive mood and anxiety. What’s concerning was that many cited they weren’t aware that these symptoms were connected to menopause – they assumed menopause was mostly hot flushes.

While we most commonly hear about hot flushes, it’s important to remember that when it comes to menopause, everyone’s experience is different. This knowledge gap about menopause symptoms is supported by our research, which found that one in 10 women had “no idea” they’d been through or were going through menopause.

It’s so important that we continue to recognise all the symptoms of menopause and encourage people to seek help when they are struggling. Companies that fail to identify and provide support for menopause and associated mental health concerns risk losing critical employees, at a time when people are most likely to be the most knowledgeable about their workplace and role.

Our research found that almost one million women have left the workplace due to menopausal symptoms. This is shocking, though also understandable. Managing fatigue, sleep problems and psychological issues can have a huge impact on self-confidence and keeping up with responsibilities. As a result, it can influence a person’s decision whether to continue in their job or leave.

This is why it is essential to have the right tools in place to support people with all of their menopause symptoms, not just the ones which are easier to identify.

Below I’ve outlined a few ways in which organisations can consider supporting their people going through menopause:

Flexibility:

The most common symptom that people reported when they came for their first Bupa Menopause Plan consultation, was that they were struggling with sleep. Lack of sleep can lead to low mood, anxiety and exhaustion, meaning some people will struggle with working set hours.

Where their role allows it, be flexible and support your employee by exploring alternative working patterns. For example, if they’ve struggled to sleep, that they can start work later or change roles where responsibilities are less time dependent.

Hybrid working patterns may also mean they feel pressured to come into the office. Again, where roles allow, create a supportive workplace environment that allows them to work from home if they are struggling with sleep.

Flexibility is key when it comes to supporting employees with menopause.

Educate:

Education around menopause is vital to supporting colleagues with menopause. It’s so important to create a culture of understanding, not just for those experiencing it, but for colleagues, managers and line managers.

A great way to educate people is through internal campaigns, whether this is hosting external speakers, virtually or in person, or sharing personal stories from other people within the business.

It’s important to create a culture where everyone feels comfortable to talk about what they’re experiencing and ask for support when they need it.

Support:

Support can come in all different forms, but for people dealing with the mental health struggles that come with menopause, anxiety can come at any time. For example, a colleague told me about how they’d been preparing for a meeting that they do monthly, and when it came to joining that meeting, anxiety took over and they forgot everything they wanted to say.

It’s so important we’re supporting colleagues, helping them to understand what they’re experiencing and finding ways to navigate feelings of anxiety and let them know they’re not alone in what they’re experiencing. Creating a group where menopause is openly talked about can help to support them, build their confidence and keep them in the workplace.

Provide access to services:

Workplaces are doing more to support menopause. As more companies step up to this, it’s essential that as well as creating menopause policies, offering flexible working hours, providing desk fans and breathable working uniform, that they are also providing access to services that can support individuals with all of the symptoms. Public services can often be hard to access so having them offered through work can make so much difference.

Options range private GP services, which are easy to access and offer 45-minutes with a GP to open up about symptoms people may find embarrassing, nurse-led phonelines to offer 24/7 support or employee assistance programmes (EAPs) to help with the mental health impacts of menopause. Having support and access to treatment mean that employees are able to stay well, in work and improve productivity.

The data from our Bupa Menopause Plan found that there was a reduction of over 60% in the majority of symptoms reported as severe or very severe between initial and follow-up appointments. This included mental health, exhaustion and problems with sleeping, which shows the importance of providing services that can help with treatment and symptom management

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