Hundreds of thousands of Kiwi women are having their mental health, confidence and self-image rocked by menopause - but it’s still something most know “next to nothing about” because it’s not spoken about enough, an expert says.
Niki Bezzant, the Kiwi journalist who authored This Changes Everything: The Honest Guide to Menopause and Perimenopause, says more than half of women who experience symptoms of menopause suffer adverse mental effects.
But in a new interview with Petra Bagust for the first episode of Season 2 of Mediaworks podcast Grey Areas, Bezzant said despite its life-changing impacts, menopause remains a topic that many women find too difficult to broach.
“A lot of women are sitting there going, ‘oh, what's happening to me? I don't know anything. I wasn't prepared for this’,” she said.
Puberty, pregnancy - these are normal stages in the life of a human. And for some reason, menopause, which is exactly the same, has been this blindspot.
Bezzant explained that much of the resistance to opening up about menopause likely stems back to Greek and Roman philosophy that placed a woman’s value heavily on her ability to reproduce.
“Therefore menopause was a gateway to death. So women had no use anymore, they were just on that path to death. It's a deeply embedded ideology,” Bezzant said.
In the podcast, now available to listen on Rova, Bagust shared her own experience of perimenopause, explaining that she’d been struggling on occasion with memory recall and had recently had a terrible mind blank on live TV.
“I sat down on the couch and I went to say some of the information that I had found out and I completely just lost my words. And I actually said, ‘Oh, okay, that's a perimenopause moment’, and carried on and found my way."
Bezzant said most women with menopause symptoms notice negative impacts - from knocks to their confidence, to a depleted self-image, to worsened mental health - so experiences like Bagust’s should be treated as normal.
“If you're feeling not so good in yourself and feeling like, oh my God, I'm losing my words, I'm not confident that I can do this job or that I can show up for this meeting or give this presentation or whatever it is… maybe you haven't slept last night and you’re having hot flushes regularly."
“I mean, throw that together and no wonder your confidence has taken a knock, right? That's an important area that we do need to talk about more and develop more understanding of in the workplace, and support for women as well.”
Unfortunately, when menopausal women reach out for professional help from a GP, it doesn’t always have the best results - which Bezzant told Grey Areas is “really disappointing”.
She said there’s a lack of consistent knowledge among doctors about menopause and hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which can sometimes lead to further difficulty.
Often, women will be prescribed antidepressants to cope with the mental strain menopause is putting them under. Bezzant told Bagust there’s some evidence that they help with hot flushes, but believes some doctors may be handing them out too freely.
“Saying ‘here, have some antidepressants’ is not a very helpful thing when you actually need hormone support,” she said.
Elsewhere in the episode, Bezzant discusses how to prepare for menopause and soften its effects, and the empowerment that comes with knowing what’s going on inside your body.
Then later, Bagust has a raw and vulnerable conversation with her friend Tori about how her early perimenopause was misdiagnosed as depression and how she’s bouncing back from a very difficult time.
The full episode of Grey Areas is available to listen to now on rova - sponsored by Nu Woman.