Huge steps have been made in opening up discussions and changing attitudes around the menopause, says Cambridgeshire Police Federation chair Liz Groom.
But Liz said there’s still work to be done to create a fully supportive environment for police officers and staff who are going through the menopause.
Liz was speaking in the lead up to World Menopause Day, which is today (Tuesday 18 October).
She said: “There was certainly an issue in previous generations in talking about the menopause – there was a real stigma attached.
“But the more that menopause and the issues for women around it are discussed, the more we’re managing to break down the barriers.
“But there’s still more we can do in terms of educating people about the potential physical and psychological impact of menopause, and to ensure we create an environment that’s supportive of staff transitioning through menopause.
“The symptoms can be debilitating, so it’s vital that the support is there for our colleagues who need it during that period in their lives.”
Her message was echoed by Hayley Aley, menopause lead and a National Board member for the Police Federation of England and Wales, who has spent the past four years tackling taboos surrounding menopause across forces nationwide.
Hayley has told how she is on a mission to boost the support female officers and staff transitioning through menopause receive while educating their colleagues.
“The impact menopause has on women is huge, there are so many symptoms, including the likes of fatigue, sweating, weight gain, joint problems and not to mention the psychological effects it has, like brain fog,” said Hayley, who has been working as menopause lead since 2018.
“And the trouble is, officers that are transitioning through menopause are often at the age when they are achieving their best, the peak of their career, with some even considering career progression. And, then all of a sudden, menopause comes along with a whole host of symptoms they can’t control and it strips all their confidence away.
“We’re actually losing amazing officers because they no longer feel like they can actually do their job anymore. We could prevent this if there was more education surrounding menopause and people felt more comfortable talking about their symptoms.”
In the UK, the average age for a woman to reach menopause is 51, however, it can generally happen anytime between 42 and 56, as a woman’s oestrogen levels start to decline. However, 1 in 100 women experience menopause before the age of 40.
“We can’t keep thinking traditionally about this either,” explains Hayley, “I’ve heard from officers who have actually experienced menopause in their 20s and 30s – and there is even more stigma in those cases because nobody believes them.”
In 2019, a national survey was carried out across all forces to help determine statistics surrounding menopause, and to support the creation of national guidance for all forces to use.
“When we first collected the data, we actually found that nobody could report sickness absence due to menopause symptoms. This has now changed and 22 forces allow it. Of course, we have advanced so much since 2019 but I didn’t think we would still have to be pushing for consistency across all forces,” added Hayley.
She explained that it is hoped to distribute a secondary survey next year, to see what has changed over the last few years.
“Not only do we want to see how far we’ve come but we need to know what areas can still be improved,” said Hayley, “Ultimately, we need that consistent approach across all forces, and the support and education officers receive needs to be continuous. It’s amazing that we have initiatives like World Menopause Day but forces need to be supporting women who are transitioning every single day of the year.”
Hayley said that since working on raising awareness of menopause, they have held regular mornings, supported officers by providing places to chat confidentially and launched training sessions.
She is also a part of ‘MAG’ – the Menopause Action Group – which has hundreds of members from all emergency service teams looking for ways to improve education and awareness of menopause.
“The trouble is, we avoid talking about it – even as women and it’s common for us to be in denial about the symptoms too,” added 49-year-old Hayley, who revealed she first noticed symptoms when she was 45.
“Even I was in denial about going through menopause, because it just creeps up on you. And I’m 12 months post-menopause and I’m still experiencing symptoms, I still get brain fog.
“And I’ve heard some horror stories from officers who feel so anxious and worried about transitioning, they actually believe they can no longer do their job. I’ve heard of women actually covering up their symptoms either because they don’t want to look like they can’t do their role or they are embarrassed – and that’s more common than you think.
“There’s no denying it, menopause can totally floor you. But this isn’t something women should worry about talking about. We should not be ashamed that this is happening.”
Hayley continued to say that as well as supporting officers currently experiencing menopause, she is determined to prove to others who will be transitioning in the future that the correct advice, guidance and help will be there.
“I want to help ensure these women feel worthy. We cannot see any more of our fantastic officers leaving the force because of menopause.”
The theme for this year’s World Menopause Day is cognition and mood.