Why should men understand the menopause?
If you’ve never heard of the menopause, or you know very little about what it is and why it happens, you’re certainly not alone. In a recent survey of UK employees across a range of sectors, we saw that 15% of males had never heard of it.
Do you need to know?
The menopause is an ageing process that only those assigned female at birth go through, so it’s understandable that many men don’t know too much about it. The menopause causes many women to experience a difficult range of symptoms, some of which last for years.
Roughly half the world’s population are going to experience the menopause at some stage of their lives, so, it’s very likely that at least someone close to you will be experiencing it now. Whether that’s in your personal, or work life.
Understanding the basics around what the menopause is, its key symptoms, and some helpful ways to manage it can help men to become more equipped to offer empathy and support to a loved one.
What is it?
The menopause is the time in life when periods stop. It tends to happen between mid-forties and fifties, however it can happen earlier. In the lead up to the menopause, the ovaries gradually start to produce less oestrogen, which means they release less eggs. Periods will change in their regularity and intensity before they stop altogether.
You can read more about the timeline of the menopause and what to expect at each stage here.
These natural changes in a many woman’s sex hormones cause a whole range of physical symptoms and mood changes. Some common symptoms are listed below:
What do women experience?
Changes in the regularity and intensity of periods (monthly bleed cycle)
Vaginal dryness (often causing discomfort during sex)
Concentration and memory problems (often referred to as ‘brain fog’)
Difficulty sleeping and night sweats
Hot flushes (sudden feeling of heat spreading throughout the body - these can happen during both day and night)
Low mood, depression or anxiety
Weight gain, shifts in body shape and a lower metabolism
It’s important to know, though, that women experience the menopause differently, with some symptoms much more severe than others.
How can I help and be more supportive?
1. Break the stigma
Even though you probably won’t have all the answers, showing a female close to you that you’re there for her and she isn’t alone can make a world of difference. And despite men not going through the menopause, many key symptoms like anxiety, forgetfulness, lack of sleep and low mood are all things that men can relate to too.
One way of approaching the conversation, our Society Matron Cheryl Lythgoe suggests, is by refencing things you’ve seen in the media, or flyers and leaflets at work. Perhaps you’ve noticed some of these same symptoms in your partner or colleague. Why not ask them if they’re experiencing the same thing you’ve seen, such as hot flushes, and see how you could help make them more comfortable. This may be an easier way to approach the topic instead of using terminology like menopausal which could sound accusatory.
2. Don’t take it personally
Mood swings, low mood and irritability are all common symptoms of the menopause and can seem out of character. And whilst it’s unpleasant being around somebody who is experiencing these, remember, it’s not personal.
She might need some space, someone else to talk to, or just a distraction. If mood swings or depressive episodes feel unmanageable, she might benefit from speaking to a mental health professional or a GP.
Regular exercise is one way to help manage some of the symptoms, such as an increased risk of heart disease, slower metabolism, weight gain and low mood. Everyone has a different relationship with exercise and if your loved one finds it difficult to stay motivated, why not offer to be a workout buddy, join a jogging club together or go on some long weekend walks?
Don’t be afraid to ask your loved one how you could better support them. It’s likely that what she needs will change day-to-day, and some days she will feel better than others. Whilst you can offer emotional support and make her feel less alone, it’s important to encourage any loved one who is struggling with their symptoms to speak to their GP so they can properly explore suitable treatment options.
If it’s a partner or close family member going through the menopause, consider ways you can help them improve their sleep cycle. You could join them in trying to avoid phone, laptop or tablet screens an hour before bed, as these are known to disrupt quality of sleep. Or you could consider changing your usual bedding to something lighter if they’re experiencing hot flushes. They might want or need to sleep separately from you for a period of time – if so, remember that it’s not because they don’t want to be with you.