"Sexual health talks have been introduced in schools to help empower young people. Its vital that we talk to our young people about the changes they will go through from puberty but also menopause."
Delilah Kealy Roberts
Girls get educated about periods and the necessary items such as teenage tampons, so why should they not be educated about the changes they will face later in life? Both are important changes in life that need to be addressed.
Menopause is a normal part of ageing that affects women at different ages. It happens when oestrogen levels decline and periods cease. The NHS states that most women will get symptoms but they will each differ in severity and how long it will last. There is a perimenopause stage that could last up to a few months or a few years before a woman’s last period. This will involve irregular periods and heavy bleeding. Usually, symptoms last about four years, but one in every 10 women can have symptoms for up to 12 years.
For the majority of us who weren’t taught about menopause when we were young, it’s likely we won't be entirely sure what is happening or why we’re feeling like we are. Because of this, many women don’t know what symptoms to expect or how to manage them. Making the switch to tampons for heavy periods during the perimenopause stage, for example, can play an important part in managing unusually heavy periods. But, if women don’t know why this change is happening, they may be reluctant to seek help and prepare themselves for such changes.
Why the menopause is being added to the curriculum
From the start of the 2020 school year, the menopause will be taught in UK schools as a part of the national sex education curriculum after a request was made by MP Rachel Maclean for it to be added. Menopause Support campaigners have argued that without a full understanding of the menopause, it can greatly affect people’s lives, such as causing relationship issues.
There are various symptoms of the menopause, not just the hot flushes 75 per cent of women suffer from. There are over 30 different symptoms which range from physical to mental and can have a major blow on a women’s wellbeing.
The reason this content has been introduced to the education system is to help young pupils support the women in their lives who may be going through this now, such as their mothers, or women they will know in the future, such as their wives.
One woman told the BBC: “I didn’t know it was coming so it hit me like a brick wall. My first symptom was tingly legs. It feels like there's something crawling under your skin. My brain was foggy, and I'd forget words in sentences. I had to write everything down, and if I didn't write it down, or put it in my phone, it wasn’t going to get done.”
Another woman told them: “I felt small. I felt alone. I've been teaching for 28 years and so to suddenly feel like I couldn't do my job, I thought I was going mad actually. I was worried about how I would get through this. And I thought about not being here. I had some awful thoughts. But I didn't make the connection between my mental well-being and menopause. No-one tells you that. Often women talk about physical symptoms but the mental well-being that's the kicker. I wish that more people made that connection earlier on.”
Breaking the stigma
Menopause discussions are usually only reserved for the TV show Loose Women and women approaching middle age, with very few partners or children being involved in the discussion. Sadly, there is a stigma associated with the menopause, and this transition in life is seen as scary, problematic, and something women do not want anyone to know they are going through. This stigma means society has remained relatively uninformed about the menopause, not engaging in open conversations about it. Women have been frightened to open up about it as they are scared they will be passed for a promotion at work or that they will be viewed in a negative light. The popular misconception is that menopausal women are emotional, erratic, and hormonal.
Many friends and family can be dismissive about it too. This can become infuriating for those going through these changes.
Sexual education has been shown to have a good effect on school children, changing their attitudes for the better towards sexual and reproductive health and attitudes. Allowing children to learn about the menopause will help them to become better at supporting those around them with symptoms. It can also educate them for when they finally get those symptoms themselves. If the menopause is discussed more liberally, then it will become less of a stigmatised subject.
Education brings the conversation to the classroom, which in turn helps breakdown the social stigma. Young girls will now be equipped with knowledge that they will take with them through life to help identify the changes within themselves. They will also feel more comfortable about getting help and helping others through the menopause.
According to the Faculty of Occupational Medicine, nearly eight out of 10 menopausal women are in work. Yet statistics reports that only five per cent of workplaces offer free advice and only three per cent of managers are given relevant training. With education being now brought into the classrooms, does it need to be brought into the workplace too?