Why Menopause Isn't the End of the World; Dear Miriam

Article excerpt

Byline: MIRIAM STOPPARD

Do British women really have the world's worst menopauses? Research shows we think we do - and I think that may be part of the problem.

Women in the UK report experiencing more severe symptoms - including tiredness, depression, aching joints, hot flushes and forgetfulness - than in any other country, say researchers at the University of Westminster.

While I was lucky enough to escape most of the physical symptoms going through the change, my mental faculties were seriously affected.

I couldn't concentrate or make decisions and I often lost my train of thought - very embarrassing when you're mid-sentence on live TV!

But the research claims that, if we could learn to view the menopause and the changes it brings in a more positive way - as is the case in many other cultures - then our experience of this natural life stage should become much easier.

All about attitude?

It makes a lot of sense to me that differences in menopausal experience are due to differing attitudes towards older women across the world.

It would help explain why Japanese, Chinese and African women - where the menopause is seen as a normal stage of life and older people are celebrated - tend to sail through it all trouble-free.

In the UK we view the menopause almost as an illness that marks the end of our youth and fertility.

This negative view is fuelled by our obsession with staying young - demonstrated by a survey this month that found half of British women feel "invisible" when they pass 50.

Of course the menopause will seem that much harder if we're constantly being reminded that growing older is a terrible thing.

This is not to say British women's suffering is all in their heads. The menopause brings with it real ailments including hot flushes, mood swings and vaginal dryness.

But the evidence does suggest that the right attitude could help ease the severity of these symptoms.

Lessons from around the world

Here's how we could benefit from the way people in other countries react to the change...

UK attitude: Say goodbye to sexual desire.

The alternative view:

In Botswana, Africa, women expect to enjoy an increased sex drive after the menopause. Mayan and Greek women report better sexual relationships with their partners, as the fear of pregnancy is gone.

Get the benefits: The brain is the most powerful erogenous zone so, if older women think of themselves as sexual, they will begin to feel that way. Unlike with men, sexual response never diminishes in women. If vaginal dryness is treated with lubrication, there's no physical reason to enjoy sex any less.

UK attitude: Menopause is a medical problem.

The alternative view:

Fewer than a quarter of women in Nigeria seek medical treatment for menopausal symptoms, where it's seen as a normal life stage.

Get the benefits: Accept the menopause as part of life, rather than thinking of it as a debilitating illness. You'll find it much easier to deal with symptoms when you come to terms with the fact that they're just signs of a change in your body - and there's not something seriously wrong with you. …