Today sees the start of Mental Health Awareness Week (Monday 13th to Sunday 19th). Every organisation worth its salt will be marking this week with initiatives to support its people.

Mental health and how to manage it is a major concern within modern business. The most recent estimates are that mental ill health costs UK business approximately £110bn[1]. I’m very lucky to work with organisations on a weekly basis who recognise this and want to be ahead of the ‘wellbeing curve’.

While poor mental health issues can arise at any age, women are more prone during menopause.

Managing symptoms can be stressful and exhausting, then add to this the pressure of work and life in general, and suddenly it can become a toxic cocktail that drives some women to a very dark place indeed.

Menopausal symptoms can last for over ten years, however the average duration is somewhere between four to eight years. That is every day and night of those years, there are no holidays or breaks, and for some women the impact is continuous and can be highly attritional.

Symptoms of menopause:

There are over 40 symptoms associated with menopause and women can experience one or many of them. I personally was one of the 25 per cent of women in menopause who were very badly affected.

Women can have one symptom that is extremely troubling and many that are just irritating or a combination of the two. Some will ebb and flow and others will seemingly disappear only to come raging back sometime later. There are some common symptoms, but every woman’s experience is different and being mindful and sensitive to that is often key to providing great support in the workplace.

Of course, everyone knows about hot flushes often seen as the ‘superstar’ of all symptoms, but not all women experience them. While some women will have flushes frequently throughout the day, experiencing sudden and intense heat, others will only have one or two and only feel a little warm.

Sleep deprivation:

Far more troubling and devastating to women’s mental health during this stage of their lives is sleep deprivation.

It can come in the form of night sweats and/or insomnia and can aggravate almost every other symptom. There is a reason it was used as a medieval torture.

It is important to note that this is not just about being unable to sleep for a week or two, again this can be a nightly struggle for years.

Recognising the impact in the workplace and creating a culture where women can discuss this and seek support, is one of the most positive things a company can do for those team members who may be affected.

Other symptoms we need to talk far more about include anxiety, low mood, panic attacks and depression.

They can come as a complete surprise to many and are driven by the increasing hormonal imbalance. There is a recognised link between previous mental health issues and those experienced in menopause. But for some women, this will be their first experience.

It is important to note that 25% of women will sail through with limited impact. 50% will have at least one troubling symptom and will need minor support. However, the remaining 25% will need considerable assistance as they struggle with the extremes of their hormonal changes. Sadly, women can’t choose, they face what they face when it arrives.

With menopause – variability comes as standard.

To mark Mental Health Week, I suggest this basic structure to support your team who may be affected by menopause. I believe, within the world of work, we need to take a three-pronged approach:

  1. Individuals

For those who are menopausal they need access to adjustments and support that will assist them through this life phase. While much has recently been made of the menopause pods installed in Deutsche Bank’s new offices, not everyone has the budget or the environment to install them. Ask your people what would have the greatest positive impact and implement it. There is kudos in listening and even more in taking action. The adjustments may be quite small such as signposting the cooler and warmer areas and putting free sanitary products in the toilets.

  1. Managers

Managers are the nodal points for culture within your organisation. They role model behaviours and drive how team members interact with each other. They are both leaders and enforcers of corporate values and expectations. Training managers in how to talk about menopause with their team and with individuals is the quickest and most effective way to create a supportive environment for those who are struggling.

  1. Policies

Make sure your policies and associated guidelines are up to date. They should speak to both of the above parties and colleagues to ensure everyone knows what is expected of them and what to do should they themselves need support or additional training.

What about the partners of those in menopause?

If the impact of menopause on the mental health of those experiencing it gets very little airtime, then the impact on their partners gets none.

This is a mistake. We are now very aware that stress and difficulties in our home life, impacts our behaviour and performance at work. Therefore, this can mean someone is impacted negatively at work because of the menopause being experienced by a partner at home. A strong wellbeing culture will allow this to be discussed openly and enable individuals and managers to create a plan for valued team members to get back on track.

Same sex relationships can have a particularly difficult time, as both partners can be struggling with their own unique set of symptoms, as well as their partners. This can exacerbate both, creating high levels of stress.

For men whose partner is menopausal, it can be challenging at a level they often feel ill equipped to manage. Culturally until recently, men have been actively excluded from conversations around this and many other areas of female life since childhood.

It is a very steep learning curve for those whose partner is in the 25% who are having a difficult time. Men want to support their partners, but often don’t know how. They fear they will get things wrong with devastating consequences. In a recent survey over 70% of those asked said that menopause was a factor in their divorce[i].

Forward-thinking organisations are already starting to take a broader view of menopause support. This can mean:

  1. Offering menopause for men and/or menopause for partner awareness sessions. Ensure they are small groups where people feel that they ask tricky questions.
  2. Where medical support is offered as part of an employee’s wellbeing package, ensure partners can also gain access to specialist support as and when needed.
  3. Recognise that home stresses can affect work life. Give people a process they can follow to access support from managers without fear that it will impact their future career prospects. Admitting that we are finding our partners menopause difficult, should not be ridiculed.

As we move past the ubiquitous wellbeing lunch and learn, instead of thinking ‘job done’ we should start thinking ‘job started’. We all know a woman in some capacity. The likelihood is we will experience their menopause journey alongside them – let’s do that with empathy and understanding.

* By Kate Usher, of Menopause in Business, and author of ‘Your Second Phase – reclaiming work & relationships during and after menopause’. Kate’s second book ‘A Couple’s Guide To Menopause – navigating the change together’ written with her husband Neil is due to be published by Hero in July 2024. 




Kate Usher
Menopause Coach at Menopause in Business | Website | + posts

Kate is an experienced Menopause Coach and gender equity consultant. She works with women and organisations to create simple strategies that enable modern and supportive Menopause conversations. Ensuring women retain their careers and organisations continue to benefit from some of their most brilliant employees. She is an internationally published author, her book 'Your Second Phase – reclaiming work and relationships during and after Menopause' was shortlisted for the Business Book of the Year Award.