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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Meet Lesley Salem, Harrow School’s new menopause teacher

As Salem says, given all the things that women are juggling, it was time that a light was shone on their needs. “The problem isn’t actually the menopause, it’s that there isn’t education about it. You’ve got people that are not prepared, entering into a stage that they’re not equipped to deal with, and with everything else that’s going on in life they can’t get the information. Also there’s no formal training for menopause by GPs so sometimes these women are being told that there’s nothing wrong with them or to go on antidepressants.” According to the NHS one in four women is in distress, experiencing chronic anxiety or clinical depression, at some point through their menopause.

Once women are aware of what the menopause may bring, and the choices they can make to improve that, the awareness-raising comes in. If the lifestyle of the average woman of 45-55 (and above) has changed so radically, the people they are relating to need to know it. Schools like Harrow are one way to get in early to educate and inform the next generation, but there are also growing numbers of corporates and SMEs developing menopause policies, and requesting workshops and talks from menopause advocates and educators such as Salem.

According to research cited by Salem, 83 per cent of women feel their performance is negatively impacted by menopause, two out of three feel they would like more support from their employers, and 33 per cent hide their symptoms from employers. “I’ve done work for the Economist, Procter and Gamble, NHS England, and across the public and private sector,” says Salem.

“By being involved with corporates, you overcome the barrier of those impacted by menopause not wanting to spend money on themselves. It means that we are working with those people directly, and also the ecosystem that they sit in – educating and developing empathy with people around them. They might not be aware of what’s going on for their colleagues.” 

Personally I initially found the trajectory of this menopause movement unsettling. Wouldn’t it harm women’s status to draw attention to the problems that ageing can bring; was it really such a problem for so many? If so, why didn’t my cohort (I’m in my mid-60s) campaign for it? We’d pulled off abortion rights, improvements in childbirth, adoption of maternity leave, fair divorce; we weren’t scaredy-cats. Sceptically I wondered if the enthusiasm for all things menopausal was because Generation X were more attuned to keeping age at bay (with everything from greater seriousness about nutrition and exercise, to use of injectables and tweakments to hold back the effects of ageing).

But more recently I have changed my mind. I realise I am feeling less self-conscious of my age relative to the people I work among (all younger), and more ready to be positive about both the benefits of life experience, and the possibility of even greater growth in the future. I don’t agree with everything that Salem and her menopause campaigners want, but I think I too will benefit from their passion for helping the world understand what happens to women when their periods cease to be.

Louise Chunn is the founder of therapist-matching service welldoing.org

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