Care and support for menopausal women must reach the same levels as pregnancy, says top psychiatrist

Date: 17th May 2024

Care and support for menopausal women must reach the same levels as that provided during pregnancy, a leading psychiatrist has said.

Dr Victoria Chamorro, a consultant psychiatrist based at Priory Hospital Roehampton, said society and science remained “dismissive” of the impact of the menopause despite the fact half of the population will experience it.

“Pregnant women are very valued by society and there's a lot of research into pregnancy but when you look at menopausal research there is hardly any,” she explained.

“I hear all the time that “it is natural” and “it is normal” and there is a lot of evidence to say women’s menopausal symptoms are being dismissed even by health professionals.”

Dr Chamorro was speaking as part of the latest episode of Priory’s Perspectives panel show series, due to broadcast on YouTube today (Friday, 17 May) at 4pm.

The panel discussion focuses on women's mental health and how menopause, as a key stage in a women’s lifecycle, can have a significant impact on a woman’s mental health and trigger new or pre-existing conditions, including eating disorders.

“To effect real change for women,” she said, “we need to see the menopause being given parity with pregnancy in terms of the care, support, treatment and investment in research it is given – particularly around mental health and wellbeing."

Perimenopause – or the menstrual transition – means "around menopause" and refers to the time the female body starts to make the natural transition to menopause which marks the end of the reproductive years.

Women start perimenopause at different ages but signs such as menstrual irregularity often begin in the 40s and can be accompanied by other symptoms such as hot flushes, vaginal dryness and sleep problems.

Many will also experience mood changes, depression, anxiety, stress and cognitive issues and the perimenopausal period can last from anywhere between a few months to 10 years before reaching menopause, which is when 12 months have passed without a menstrual period.

Dr Chamorro said she is concerned women’s menopausal symptoms are often dismissed by health professionals and the “easiest thing” is to work with a “narrative” which does not provide adequate treatment for a patient’s symptoms.

“I do think menopausal symptoms are too often dismissed by health professionals and I think the reason is two-fold - partly because we don't understand, not fully, and partly because we don't have proper treatments for it or treatments that are not effective or as effective as we would like.

“So the easiest thing sometimes is trying to minimise and work with a patient, or a narrative, rather than give true treatments targeted towards the menopausal period.”

Dr Samir Shah, a consultant psychiatrist and medical director at Priory Hospital Altrincham, said women who have experienced mental illness previously often relapse around the perimenopausal period and again at the end of it – with the additional stresses a particular problem.

“If someone has got serious mental illness already, such as severe depression, bipolar or psychosis, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and others, there are very classic relapse periods and one of them is just around perimenopausal and then just at the end of the perimenopausal phase,” he said.

“This is due to the sudden drop in the oestrogen levels, progesterone levels and fluctuations, and physical as well as psychological effects, with changes in liver metabolism so they might have been stable on certain medications, but they are not sufficient enough around that time.

“We see quite a number of admissions to mental health hospitals around those periods so understanding the biological changes, along with what stresses and pressures that individual is put under, allows us to really support them better with that.

“However, the expectations that society puts on them during those times by saying it is normal and society dismissing their issues is very problematic as this can coincide with women feeling shame, guilt, denial – adding greatly to the burden.

“Compared to pregnancy, which is largely fine if managed effectively, there is a vast difference in the quality of care but the reality is it does have a significant impact and it does require lifestyle modification changes and supports to be put in place for women.”

Hear more from Dr Chamorro, Dr Shah and Debbie Longsdale, therapy director at Priory, on this as well as a variety of issues affecting women’s mental health on Priory’s Perspectives today (Friday, 17 May) at 4pm on YouTube.


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About Priory and MEDIAN Group

Priory is the UK’s largest independent provider of mental health and adult social care services. Priory treats more than 70 conditions, including depression, anxiety, addictions and eating disorders, as well as children’s mental health, across its nationwide network of sites. Priory also supports autistic adults and adults with a learning disability, Prader-Willi Syndrome and brain injuries, as well as older people, within specialist residential care and supported living facilities – helping as many people as possible to live their lives.

Priory is part of the MEDIAN Group, the leading European provider of high-quality mental health and rehabilitation services. The MEDIAN Group comprises: Priory in the UK with 290 facilities and 5,000 beds caring for 28,000 people, MEDIAN in Germany with 120 facilities and 20,000 beds caring for around 250,000 patients, and Hestia in Spain with 15 facilities and 2,100 beds caring for 11,000 people in Spain, with more than 29,000 employees across the group.

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