Opening Up: Breaking the Silence & Stigma Surrounding Menopause

In the wake of landmark new research by the Menopause Foundation of Canada that reveals the real impact on the health and quality of life of Canadians transitioning through menopause, St. Joe’s Women’s Health Concerns Clinic is hosting a virtual, public forum on Nov. 18 to explore menopause and its effects on cognition.

Opening Up will feature St. Joe’s clinical experts alongside panelists with lived experience as they share knowledge, resources and support to help people navigate the menopause transition, and to gain access to the care they may need.

“A large majority of people don’t know there are brain changes associated with menopause, but the reality is about 50 per cent of patients who are seeking help from our menopause clinic have significant levels of depression,” says Dr. Alison Shea, an obstetrician and gynecologist at St. Joe’s, and a menopause mental health specialist. “This forum aims to open up dialogue and break the silence and stigma that surrounds menopause.”

In addition to depression, Dr. Shea says fluctuations in hormone levels during the menopause transition can cause word-finding difficulties as well as challenges processing and reacting to information (“brain fog”). Many patients also experience sleep problems, which can have the snowball effect of further deteriorating cognition and mood.

Often, patients who are experiencing cognitive symptoms don’t understand it’s part of the menopause transition and very common, like hot flashes and changes to menstruation. “As a result, many women are unprepared for menopause,” Dr. Shea says.

Dr. Shea’s clinical data is mirrored in the Menopause Foundation’s national survey. Despite menopause affecting 50 per cent of the population, nearly half of all women feel unprepared for this stage of life, and more than half believe that talking about menopause is a taboo subject.

Janet Ko, the president and co-founder of The Menopause Foundation of Canada, knows firsthand of the need to raise awareness about the real-life impact of menopause. As she approached menopause, she experienced brain fog, night sweats, sleep disturbance, fatigue, and serious heart palpitations that prompted her to visit the emergency department. Feeling unwell, and lacking the vitality she once had, she quit her job as a senior vice-president to focus on her health.

“It was a time of confusion and very lonely because I was thinking, ‘Why am I unable to function like I did before? Why am I having all of these health issues? I couldn’t connect the dots on what was happening to my body,” Ko says.

It wasn’t until she visited a menopause specialist, like Dr. Shea, that Ko’s symptoms were attributed to menopause, and she was given hormone therapy treatment which helped her to get her life back.

Ko compares the menopause transition to other times in the lives of girls and women, including puberty and pregnancy. During these life stages, they are educated and supported to understand what is happening to their bodies. During menopause, however, she says women endure physical and emotional changes, and are largely left to navigate the experience on their own and, in some cases, to suffer silently.

“Menopause is another natural transition in a woman’s life that can be very debilitating, but there’s little knowledge around it,” she says. “So, the first thing we need to do is close the knowledge gap, so that women in their prime can advocate for their health and live their best lives without being blindsided by menopause.”

Tickets to Opening Up are $10 and available at stjoesfoundation.ca/openingup. Proceeds from each ticket will be donated to support the work of the Women’s Health Concerns Clinic. Those needing compassionate (free) access to this workshop can email openingupforumsjwhcc@gmail.com for assistance.

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