The NHS describes the menopause as a “natural part of ageing” that tends to occur between the ages of 45 and 55 when your periods stop.
The symptoms most commonly associated with the menopause may sound familiar, such as hot flushes, night sweats and difficulty sleeping.
But the symptoms don’t stop there – many people experience symptoms so unbearable that their families, jobs and, in some cases, lives are put at risk.
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One woman who knows just how serious the menopause can be is 55-year-old Diane Danzebrink from East London.
When Diane went through the menopause, she was gripped by debilitating mental illness so serious that she almost took her own life.
(Image: Diane Danzebrink)
Diane told MyLondon that she had a total hysterectomy in 2012 aged 45, which put her into an immediate surgical menopause.
“Unfortunately, I was not given comprehensive advice and support prior to my surgery about all the potential symptoms and long term health considerations,” Diane said.
“All I knew about it was that it might be some hot flushes and I wouldn’t have any more periods. But I didn’t know about the other 30 plus symptoms, and I certainly didn’t know that there could be mental health considerations.”
The change in hormones experienced during the menopause often impacts mental health significantly.
According to the Samaritans, in 2020 the age group with the highest suicide rate for women was between 45 and 54 in England.
Not only this, a study carried out by women’s health app Heath & Her also found that around one in 10 perimenopausal women experience suicidal thoughts.
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“For two or three months I was okay,” Diane said, “I thought, ‘I’m doing all right, I’ve only had a few hot flushes!’ And then my anxiety started to come on.”
Before long, Diane’s mental health had completely deteriorated. Her sleep pattern fell apart, she experienced intrusive thoughts, panic attacks and was left unable to leave the house or answer the phone.
Diane was forced to stop working and said she was utterly “terrified” that she was “losing her mind.”
“The crucial time came when I came very close to taking my own life,” Diane said.
“I came very close to putting my car in front of a lorry. The only thing that saved me was when one of my little dogs in the car barked, and he broke my train of thought.
“That was a very scary moment – having that train of thought broken and the shock of realising what you’ve nearly done.”
(Image: Diane Danzebrink)
Diane sought medical help and her GP explained that the sharp decline in oestrogen during the menopause can affect your mood and anxiety levels.
“She explained that what I really needed was a hormone replacement. I was very scared of that because I’d heard all the scary stuff about it,” Diane recalled.
“She took the time to explain that there were modern types of HRT [hormone replacement therapy] that I could have through my skin, I didn’t have to have tablets. She explained all the most recent risks and benefits, and I started taking it that day.”
Diane continued: “I really couldn’t have gotten any lower, but within a few days it didn’t seem as though I was living under a big dark cloud anymore.”
As Diane started to recover, she said her relief quickly changed to anger as she became aware of how many people had similar experiences to her.
Diane wanted to do something to help, so she founded Menopause Support, a not-for-profit community interest company dedicated to helping people through the menopause and providing coherent information and resources.
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Menopause Support also launched a national campaign called Make Menopause Matter.
The campaign has three main aims: first, to make menopause education mandatory for all GPs, second, the have menopause guidance and support in every workplace and finally to have menopause included in the new RSE curriculum in schools.
The campaign has so far achieved its third aim in England as of September 2020, and their Make Menopause Matter petition has a staggering 165,000 signatures so far.
“They’re all steps in the right direction, but there is still so much work to do,” Diane said.
“It’s so much worse than hot flushes and periods stopping – one in four will have no symptoms at all, but one in four will call it a debilitating experience having a severe effect on their quality of life.
“We are at a turning point in history.”
If you’ve been affected by any of the issues covered here and need support, you can contact the Samaritans here or call 116 123. You matter.
For more information on Menopause Support and the Make Menopause Matter Campaign, click here
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