By Melissa Donald BVMS MRCVS

Last year I wrote a blog for the BVA, saying we need to talk about the menopause more, starting conversations and not being afraid of the topic.

Have things improved? I think so. Davina McCall did a full-on programme called Davina McCall: Sex, myths and the menopause on Channel 4 recently and we need more high profile women speaking about it.

Let’s face it, 50% of the population are affected by it directly at some point in their lives and the other 50% indirectly. Menopausal women are also the fastest growing group of workers in the UK. But to enable things to change, we need a two-way narrative. We need people to talk about it and also people to listen, people who are going through the menopause as well as co-workers, management and family members.

Melissa Donald BVMS MRCVS Biography
Melissa Donald BVMS MRCVS Biography

I’m sure if you asked people what were the common symptoms of the menopause, most would mention hot flushes and perhaps sweats. But poor sleep quality, brain fog, mood swings and anxiety are also very common but less known. It is so debilitating, that normal, rational people like myself resort to buying ridiculous ‘cures’ such as magnets that attach to your underwear that are supposed to help control it! If Boots sell it, it must be authentic, said my mushed up brain (although I don’t think they stock it anymore!) …. It didn’t work funnily enough. I was prepared to spend money on things like this, herbal supplements and struggle through, rather than accept the medical advice of HRT from my doctor. I can visualise many of you banging your heads on brick walls! Work with your doctor (even change to one that is more aware of the menopause) but also don’t forget that other issues can cause many of the symptoms too.

I am a few years further on now. I still get flushes, sleep badly and have more anxiety than before but I am more in control than I was. The overwhelming tidal waves are more of a gentle ebb and flow with occasional storms that I know will pass. 

So what can we do to help? The conversations are hopefully starting which is great. But on a practical level, desk fans are easily available items that can be moved about. Flexibility, allowing more breaks so that anxiety can be calmed or the overheating cooled down. On an individual level, wearing layers that can cool or warm you as necessary, sports t-shirts dry quickly, scrubs are comfy, loose and cool. I personally found dress shorts good from spring to autumn as my legs cooled the body more quickly. I had to learn a coping mechanism for the panic attacks, there are many breathing techniques available and I took a mind clearing walk or run whenever possible. My co-workers were invaluable, spotting things and subtly helping without needing to say anything which is why it’s important to talk.

Everybody’s journey through this stage in life is different, there is no quick fix and no one size fits all. We need to start the discussion, increase the awareness and then adapt to each individual’s needs, basically like every good team or employer should be doing for any staff member, whatever the issue.

There are more resources available now for workplaces including the BVA Good Veterinary Workplace Resources to make the place we spend most of our day better.

Thank you for supporting Menopause Awareness Month.

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This week’s VetChat episode is the first of our new series on supporting and empowering women in veterinary, hosted by Kathryn Bell. Joining Kathryn is Melissa Donald, Chair Standards Committee at Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) and past president of the BVA Scottish Branch. In this episode, they break open a conversation all about menopause: how it affects women, its influence in the workplace, and Melissa’s own advice on managing it.

Check out the preview below, or listen to the episode here.

Melissa Donald BVMS MRCVS Biography

Originally from London, I am a Glasgow Vet School Graduate with over 25 years first opinion practice in Ayrshire, a traditional mix of farm, horse and companion species initially to purely small animal with a keen interest in dentistry latterly. I have been a hill beef and sheep farmer, now with a small holding. I have been the veterinary non-executive director on the board of the Red Tractor Farm Assurance Scheme for the last four years and a trustee of the Scottish SPCA. I am a past president of the Scottish Branch of the British Veterinary Association. I currently chair the RCVS Standards committee, being an elected member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons Council and Junior Vice President at the RCVS. In my spare time I enjoy running and spinning, cooking and knitting as well as being a wife, mother and grandmother and breeder of Border Terriers!