This week is Mental Health Awareness week and like 7.6 million others I watched the emotional episodes on Coronation Street about Aiden’s suicide and the devastating aftermath.
It seems Corrie got this plotline right, with discussions in newspapers and television praising their handling of the topic.
It got me Googling to find out the suicide rates in the UK – and one fact on the Office for National Statistics page was a real shocker. The most common age for female suicide is 51-55 years. And what is the most common age for menopause? Yep 51-55 years! Is this just a coincidence? I Googled more, trying to find any studies on the potential link – but nothing. Absolutely nothing. And I find that shocking.
Maybe there is no proven link, but let’s face it – when you are entertaining anxiety, insomnia, low mood and irritability amongst others, is it any wonder that depression wants to pop along and join the party? Add to that the pressures women of this age can often be under, with grown-up children leaving home (or not leaving home!); not having children and realising you never will; caring for ailing parents; financial pressures; pension worries; realising that you are no longer young and suddenly being aware of just how much society values youth etc. And you have the perfect storm.
There is no doubt that falling oestrogen levels can affect your mood. The physical symptoms can also start to affect your mental health. Those hot flushes can lead to panic attacks and not wanting to go out in case they hit. The lack of sleep can make you feel down and make it hard to see things clearly. The irritability can make you start to alienate the very people you need around you.
Every woman is different – with different circumstances and different responses to the the menopause. What will help one woman won’t necessarily help another. What definitely doesn’t help are stupid comments from half wits that I sometimes read online such as:
“Oh get on with it and stop making such a drama”
“Every woman goes through it – you are no different”
“It’s just natural”
“FFS – can you just stop going on about it – you’re not the only one. Some people are so much worse off than you”
At this time of life it is absolutely ok to not be ok about everything that is going on in and around you.
Carol Vorderman has been honest and spoken out about experiencing suicidal thoughts and depression during the menopause. Gillian Anderson said she felt her life was falling apart around her and was completely overwhelmed. Lorraine Kelly has said she just didn’t feel like herself and could not see joy in anything. And good on them for being so open. I think the more people that speak out, the easier it is for others to talk about it and start seeking help.
My niece asked me what the menopause was and I answered honestly. She thought about it for a while and then said “So it’s all the rubbish bits about being a teenager but you are also old.” So that fair cheered me up! But it does kind of sum it up.
On the flipside, it can also be a time to fully evaluate your life and what you want to make the rest of it the best of it. Oprah Winfrey described it as your moment to reinvent yourself after focusing on the needs of others for so long – to get clear on what matters to you then to pursue it with all your energy time and talent.
There is no ‘one size fits all’. Every menopausal woman needs options tailored to themselves. Some women sail through without an issue, others experience minor symptoms and for others it is extreme. Apparently only 50% of women who suffer actually go and seek treatment – I’m not sure why that is. Maybe because not so long ago the hormone changes were seen as a sign of madness. Are women scared of putting it out there? Worrying if people will judge? Scared people will think less of them?
Attitudes to mental health are changing, thank God, and there are a wide range of options the GP can discuss with you, or they can refer you elsewhere if needed.
There are tons of online forums where women are talking about their symptoms and supporting each other. The more we talk about it the less of a taboo it will become.