Why everyone's talking about menopause - including royalty

Watch: Sophie: 'Menopause could be a celebration, not a shackle'.

The Countess of Wessex has joined a growing band of high profile women trying to change the conversation surrounding menopause.

The popular royal has opened up about her own experience of going through the menopause, describing losing her train of thought on royal engagements and feeling as if somebody had 'taken her brain out'.

Sophie also called for franker conversations surrounding the subject and more support for women as she became patron of the charity Wellbeing of Women.

The 56-year-old described hot flushes, memory loss and brain fog – all symptoms of the menopause.

She is believed to be the first member of the royal family to discuss their own experiences of the issue at length.

Chatting via video call last week with Sarah Jane Cale, founder of the Positive Menopause website, which offers information and advice for menopausal women, the countess said: “You know in the middle of a presentation when you suddenly can’t remember what you were talking about? Try being on an engagement when that happens – your words just go.

“And you’re standing there and going, ‘Hang on, I thought I was a reasonably intelligent person, what has just happened to me?’

“It’s like somebody’s just gone and taken your brain out for however long, before they pop it back in again and you try and pick up the pieces and carry on.”

Read more: Lorraine Kelly opens up about the anxiety she suffered during menopause

The Countess of Sussex has opened up about her own experiences of the  menopause, pictured in July 2020. (Getty Images)
The Countess of Sussex has opened up about her own experiences of the menopause, pictured in July 2020. (Getty Images)

In a conversation with Wellbeing of Women chief Professor Dame Lesley Regan, the countess called for any remaining taboo in talking about the menopause to be broken.

“We all talk about having babies, but nobody talks about periods, nobody talks about the menopause, why not?” she said.

“It’s something that’s incredibly normal but it’s something that is hidden and I think it’s time to say enough, we need to bring this out on to the table and say let’s talk about this.”

Gabby Logan: Men need to know more about the menopause

Why we need to talk about the menopause

The countess isn't the only high profile woman trying to switch up the conversation surrounding menopause.

In her recent TV programme ‘Sex, Myths and Menopause’ Davina McCall opened up about how she felt when she started menopause:

“I thought I was going mad. I even thought I was possibly getting some sort of early-onset dementia," she said. "The menopause didn’t even cross my mind because I was young - 44 - so I battled on for a year. I didn’t know who to talk to, where to go."

The 60 minute one-off show looked into the science and impact on women's health, and the lack of understanding and misinformation that exists surrounding the menopause.

As well as discussing her own journey, the programme featured personal stories of women with the aim "to spark a candid conversation about a subject that has for too long been a taboo.

"I don’t think I’ve ever worked on a project that has affected me so deeply," explains McCall. "I'd get home after filming and sometimes just sit down and cry ... from deep frustration and anger at how we are failing women. This film isn’t just for menopausal women, it’s for their partners, their fathers, their brothers, and their sons.

"We’re all in this together. I used to think that menopause was an age thing and now I realise it’s a woman thing. For far too long, there’s been a shroud of embarrassment, shame and fear around this topic, and this is where it stops!"

Watch: Julie Graham on finding empowerment in the menopause.

Stephanie Taylor, intimate health expert and managing director of Kegel8 agrees that the menopause conversation needs to be kick-started and believes high-profile women discussing their experiences has helped in breaking down the stigma surrounding the topic.

"Over the last few years, we have seen the taboo surrounding women’s health subjects slowly start to fade," she explains.

"Thanks to a rise in honest podcasts and TV shows like 'Sex Education', women are openly discussing their PCOS, vaginismus and endometriosis – well, young women are at least.

"Recently however, the conversation is starting to open up about menopause. Sophie Wessex, Davina McCall and Mariella Frostrup are high-profile figures divulging their experiences."

Taylor says this is a really important step in the right direction for women.

"Ageing itself often feels like a risky subject, let alone the changes to your reproductive health," she continues. "This can be incredibly isolating for women who are going through some of the most dramatic physical changes of their life. With public figures finally coming forward and de-stigmatising menopause, it begins to normalise the conversation for the everyday woman."

Read more: Penny Lancaster shares weight loss photos after 'turning to food for comfort' during menopause

When a woman reaches menopause, her body goes through many changes as a result of falling oestrogen levels. These can lead to symptoms like hot flushes, vaginal dryness and incontinence.

"These changes can not only affect your outward appearance, but they can also take their toll on everyday life and a woman’s personal, professional and sex life too," Taylor continues.

"For a life event that is universal for anyone who has a period, the lack of discussion is alarming, considering the impact this can have on your mental health."

And this lack of discussion can lead to misunderstanding as friends and family may fail to grasp what a menopausal woman is going through.

"Some women may feel they’re not getting the support they need. If they’re finding it difficult to cope, it is possible to develop anxiety or depression," Taylor explains.

Davina McCall has also been trying to fight the stigma surrounding menopause, pictured in December 2019. (Getty Images)
Davina McCall has also been trying to fight the stigma surrounding menopause, pictured in December 2019. (Getty Images)

Women's health expert, Natasha Richardson, says it is vital that high profile people are coming forward to speak out about the menopause.

"When we share things among the female community it enables us to understand what might be expected of the menopause," she says.

"When high profile people come forward to speak out about the menopause it helps remove taboos which have been working against women for hundreds of years, because it normalises something which has been relegated to the territory of the medicine men.

"It also helps us to feel like we're not alone in our experience."

Richardson says this openness also encourages better empathy in the workplace where women have had to hide their symptoms among their male counterparts.

Taylor has some suggestions for women currently experiencing menopausal symptoms.

"Try addressing the symptoms through positive lifestyle changes. Ensure you get adequate sleep, do regular exercise and try relaxation techniques like yoga and meditation to calm the mind," she says.

"If you find these practices don’t work, seek professional medical advice from your doctor who will be able to listen to how you’re feeling and recommend alternative options."

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