Why we should be talking about the menopause in Stamford and Rutland
The menopause used to be spoken of in hushed tones cloaked by euphemisms.
“She’s going through The Change,” one woman would whisper to another, with a knowing nod.
These days it’s an easier topic to talk about, although still one blighted by ignorance and misconceptions, according to mental fitness coach Emma Ellis.
Emma, who lives in Ketton, is not an archetypical women’s health expert.
She grew up in Spalding, left school without too many qualifications, studied hospitality in Norwich and then spent 12 years as cabin crew and a trainer for British Airways.
It was during this time she was involved in a training programme offered to BA staff, designed to get them thinking and talking about themselves. The idea was that if they understood themselves better, employee wellbeing and customer service would be improved.
“It was probably a bit before its time, in the 1990s,” said Emma.
“Back then, people weren’t used to talking about themselves, but it opened my eyes to the knowledge that with self-awareness comes choices and possibilities.”
The seed of this stayed with her and, after working as an Operations Manager at the South Holland Centre Spalding, and as Director of the Rutland County Show, Emma wanted to go in a different direction. So, she spoke to a careers coach and realised that helping people become self-aware and enabling them to find their own voice was something she was passionate about.
“I love encouraging people to dig deep and think big,” she said.
“I had a typical 1970s upbringing where no one really talked about their choices, or anything really. They just ‘did’ things in life.
“I grew up as a people-pleaser. I only realised this in recent years, but all the time I was doing things for family and those around me, and not necessarily considering what I wanted.”
Now a mental fitness coach (as opposed to a physical fitness coach) she coaches people around their goals whether that’s to have better careers, lives or their wellbeing.
“The benefits of physical fitness are well documented,” said Emma.
“However, considering a quarter of us will have a mental illness in our lifetime, we often overlook our mental fitness.
“When you are mentally fit and self-aware you can meet life's challenges from a place of control rather than reaction.” (www.redwoodellis.co.uk/post/what-is-a-mental-fitness-coach)
Emma believes in coaching people from an early age, so also volunteers for ‘Yes Futures’, a charity that coaches in schools.
Its programme is designed to empower young people to reach their potential, giving them skills they need to be prepared for the future.
She also helps companies improve employee wellbeing and productivity through one-to-one coaching and employee engagement surveys.
The information gathered from this process helps find ‘pinch points’ in the business, improves productivity, and ultimately makes individuals feel valued and included.
This work has led to Emma volunteering for the wellbeing charity MindSpace Stamford, which takes her into local businesses.
Through her coaching, she was finding certain topics of conversation would keep recurring. One of those was the menopause.
Emma, 56, knows how debilitating the menopause - and its precursor, the perimenopause - can be.
Although she didn’t experience all the symptoms, in her 40s she had started to feel anxious, couldn’t sleep through the night, put on weight and her joints ached.
Her GP visits, aged 47 and 49, led only to anti-anxiety medication, with hormone replacement therapy (HRT) never mentioned. It was not until she was 53 that Emma had a major revelation.
In 2021 the TV personality’s Davina McCall produced a documentary called Sex, Myths and the Menopause (www.channel4.com/programmes/davina-mccall-sex-myths-and-the-menopause), which brought Emma lots of ‘ah-ha’ moments and revisiting her GP surgery armed with the knowledge she needed, she came away with a prescription for ‘body identical’ HRT, comprising oestrogen gel and progesterone tablets.
Three days later she slept through the night for the first time in seven years.
Emma feels she lost years of her life to the perimenopause, a time when she was also working, coping with motherhood, and caring for her parents.
“There are 13 million of us going through the perimenopause or the menopause in this country at any one time,” said Emma.
“Yet medical training for GPs is seriously lacking. A 2021 survey of 33 UK medical schools found 41 per cent did not have a mandatory menopause medical training on the curriculum.”
According to a 2022 survey of more than 4,000 women, one in ten employed during their menopause have left work due to menopause symptoms – around 333,000 women.
"People aged over 50 now make up almost a third of the working-age population, up from a quarter 25 years ago,” said Emma.
“A lack of workplace training and policies around menopause mean many women in their 50s aren't keen to stay, or head back, into the workplace.
“In an era when we have skill and candidate shortages, and attracting talent is extremely difficult, the sensible thing would be to look after our teams better.”
Fortunately this knowledge-gap is being plugged through the work of Dr Louise Newson, a GP who is on the Government’s Menopause Taskforce.
More than 30,000 healthcare professionals worldwide have downloaded her free course, ‘Confidence in the Menopause’. Dr Newson also offers a free app for everyone, called ‘Balance’ (www.balance-menopause.com).
Although not a healthcare professional, Emma has completed Dr Newson’s course, which enables her to guide women to find the resources they need to get informed.
“Because of my poor experience, I feel strongly that women must become better informed about the perimenopause and menopause. Once informed they can then make choices,” she said.
People, including GPS, became sceptical of HRT because of the now discredited Women’s Health Initiative study in 2002, which linked the old-style synthetic HRT to an increased risk of breast cancer.
When the data was reanalysed with breast cancer as an observational secondary outcome, there was no increased risk.
“These days most HRT is body identical, with patches and gels delivering doses of HRT through the skin, so it doesn’t go through the liver,” said Emma.
“In fact, there are many studies showing HRT has health benefits. It can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, which is the biggest killer in women, osteoporosis, diabetes and dementia.
“I’m still quite shocked that only 14 per cent of women are on HRT.
“GPs prescribe hormones every day to improve people’s health - insulin for diabetes and thyroxine for thyroid conditions.”
Emma’s story has a happy ending, and she is now keen that other women - and men – talk openly about the menopause and become better informed.
She feels no one should suffer in silence just because their mothers did, or feel like they are going mad, and for anyone considering this she has an interesting reflection on her own experience.
“I wish I knew about the menopause when I was much younger,” she said. “I didn’t, and so when my mum was going through it, I thought she was literally going mad.
“If I had known more about the menopause before she died, we could have had a conversation about it and maybe I wouldn’t have had the negative experiences I had.”
Emma is currently running a four-week coaching programme for women who are menopausal, empty nesters, divorced, struggling parents or just directionless. She’s been through all these too, and is ready to help