Sunderland collaboration unravelling menopause minefield

A major collaboration between academics, the voluntary sector and health professionals has been launched in Sunderland to research, raise awareness, inform education and support women through menopause.

The University of Sunderland has launched its study looking at all areas of the menopause – which for decades has been shrouded in stigma and misunderstanding, leaving women struggling to get the healthcare they need. As a result, many women have experienced reduced quality of life, with relationships, employment and careers adversely affected.

The research, announced on World Menopause Day (October 18), will look at how the menopause affects areas of women’s lives, including family, friendships and work across academic and NHS workforces.  The study will also examine the sociocultural aspects of the menopause, focusing on Sunderland’s Black and Ethnic Minorities (BAME) population, where there are known health inequalities.

The study was inspired by the University’s own Menopause Staff Network group, launched during the first Covid-19 lockdown to connect with staff members experiencing symptoms and feeling isolated, which has since become a powerful voice with a large membership.  Also contributing to the study will be health and wellbeing specialists who launched the Sunderland-wide initiative ‘You Are Not Alone’ – signposting to resources, encouraging conversations and raising awareness of menopause in workplaces.

It’s hoped the findings could influence employers to adopt menopause-friendly policies into the workplace, as well as the way the wider medical professional deals with menopause, including informing the University’s own School of Nursing curriculum, equipping the next generation of nurses with essential skills and knowledge that can transform women’s health in this area.

Leading the research is Dr Yitka Graham, an expert in the field of women’s health, she is also the Head of the Helen McArdle Nursing and Care Research Institute and Associate Professor in Health Services Research at the University of Sunderland.

She explained: “Many women feel they need to deal with the symptoms of menopause in silence, whether that is hot flushes, memory loss, brain fog or crippling anxiety, backed up by the fear of outdated cultural views of women who reach a certain age. Thankfully those sexist and ageist stereotypes are changing thanks to positive work being done across Sunderland, and nationally, with public figures like Davina McCall and Mariella Frostrup sharing their own experiences.

“The network group set up at our own University has not only made a significant difference in many women’s lives, but has offered a wealth of important information surrounding the menopause, which was the inspiration to carry out research. In collaboration with our NHS partners, we will explore the wider issues affecting women across the City and how we can all work together to increase understanding of the menopause and develop workforce policies to support women at this time in their lives.”

Nahida Aktar, BAME Health and Wellbeing Lead at The Sunderland Bangladesh International Centre, added: “One area of our work to be explored is our BAME communities’ views on menopause, we know, for example, that our Bangladeshi community, there is no word for ‘menopause’, so women may have these symptoms, but don’t know what’s happening to them. It’s an area that needs urgent attention as there are known health inequalities in the BAME population. We are delighted to be working with the University to increase awareness of the menopause and  ensure that we develop culturally appropriate information and support to improve quality of life for all women in Sunderland.”

Labour MP Carolyn Harris is pushing the second reading of her Menopause Bill through Parliament this month. The Bill calls for Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) to be made free on the NHS in England, and covers broader issues around menopause rights and education, particularly in the workplace. 

Justine Gillespie, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Manager, at the University of Sunderland, who launched the University’s Menopause Staff Network, said: “We are ahead of the curve as an organisation in supporting our staff members through this group. It has become a powerful voice within the University, and we have a large membership attracting key health experts offering advice and guidance to our members.

“Lockdown provided us with the opportunity to impact positively on women’s lives, who may otherwise be experiencing symptoms in isolation.

“We very much welcome the research being done to help inform and bust open the myths surrounding menopause. This initiative also allows us to work with partners across the city to share best practice.”

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