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Menopause – why it’s time we talk about it in education

‘I thought ‘The Change’ was the stuff of legends, something that happens to other people… how wrong I was,’ says Maria Richards

Maria Richards
by Maria Richards
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I have worked in education for almost 30 years, first as a primary school teacher, then as a school improvement adviser and now as a literacy specialist and Talk for Writing consultant.

So why, for the first time, am I struggling to do my job well? One word… menopause. 

Not a menopausal woman? DO NOT stop reading!

Navigating the menopause

With over three quarters of primary school teachers in the UK being female, even if you are not a woman experiencing menopause, chances are someone in your school is.

However, I bet you have no idea what they are going through.

I can say that with conviction, because I thought menopause was the stuff of legends, something that happens to other people and something that has little or no real impact on your life, other than the odd hot flush and perhaps a mood swing or two. How wrong I was. 

I consider myself to be an intelligent, rational, well-informed woman. So how have I got to the age of 51 without knowing the real impact that menopause can have?

Why are the things that are happening to me such a surprise? Why am I embarrassed to explain to the people I work alongside that I am finding things difficult, sometimes near impossible? Why isn’t more being done?

The answer – a clear lack of education across the board (even for GPs) and a distinct culture of sweeping it under the carpet and ‘just getting on’. 

The thing is, menopause IS real, it DOES affect women in immeasurable ways, and it CAN have a profound effect on behaviour. I know this because it’s happening to me.

Symptoms are for real

It’s important to say that every woman’s journey through menopause is different and totally unique. Some women sail through it, some have mild symptoms, and one in four women have a severe reaction to the changes going on in their bodies – I am one of those women.

However, if you met me, you wouldn’t know. If I ran training in your school, you wouldn’t know. If I taught a demo lesson in your class, you wouldn’t know – but the truth is, every day is a huge battle.

I find myself embarrassed about my symptoms, ashamed at my inability to cope, confused about how I feel or what I think, and baffled as to where I can get help.

But worse than all of this, I find myself hiding it all, not admitting to myself what’s going on and not talking about it to anyone.

Well, enough is enough. The stigma, taboo and misunderstanding around menopause HAS to stop.  

There are far too many women out there (around 13 million UK women are peri- or post-menopausal, according to the Nuffield Health Group) who could be suffering in silence – ‘suffering’ being the operative word.

Over 70 per cent of menopausal women suffer symptoms (via Menopause Matters), which can last up to 15 years and range from mild to severe, says CIC Menopause Support.

Mine cover the whole spectrum. The mild ones are manageable – things like brittle nails, dry skin and hair, watery eyes, digestion issues, palpitations, tinnitus, weight gain.

However, their effect is cumulative and I don’t feel ‘normal’ anymore. I’m not me anymore.

The severe ones are much more debilitating and are relentless. Heightened anxiety, low mood and depression, uncontrollable hot flushes, problems sleeping, lack of motivation, lack of confidence, inexplicable tiredness, frequent headaches, an inability to concentrate, memory issues and brain fog which affects my ability to process information and then articulate it.

All of these have had a severe impact on my capacity to do my job – a job I love. 

Let’s talk about it

But it’s not just me. There will be countless teachers, support staff and headteachers in schools who are trying to ‘carry on,’ but being floored by symptoms.

Trying to get through each day, each interaction, each event and each Ofsted inspection, feeling like a different person, like they are not in control of their own body or mind. Some not even realising it could be linked to menopause.  

The reality is, at the peak of their careers, one in 10 women leave the workplace due to their symptoms, says The Fawcett Society, and in education, says charity Education Support one in four consider leaving.

Don’t let one of them be you or one of your colleagues. Make the menopause matter in your school. Talk about it, reach out, ensure you have a menopause policy to support women experiencing symptoms – every workplace should have one.

Get as much information as you can to be menopause aware, but please, if you’re menopausal right now, don’t suffer in silence. It’s time to change ‘The Change’. 

Maria Richards is a primary school teacher at heart but has also worked as a National Strategy literacy consultant and school improvement adviser. 

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