Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust is leading the way by supporting women going through the menopause.
It has set up a menopause support group for staff, which is believed to be the first of its kind in the region.
It was formed after employee Angela Bandeira bravely posted on the trust’s staff Facebook group ‘calling ladies of Northumbria of a certain age’ and was inundated with responses from fellow women going through the life-change.
Now women working in roles across the trust in Northumberland and North Tyneside are coming together to share their experiences and support each other.
The group, run in partnership with Northumberland County Council, comes as a campaign to encourage employers to support women better at this stage of their lives – backed earlier this year by Prime Minister Theresa May in Parliament – gathers pace.
With around a quarter of Northumbria Healthcare’s workforce females aged 50 and over, the group is part of the trust’s on-going efforts to look after its more than 10,000 staff and improve their health and wellbeing.
Nationally more than a third of women say their menopause symptoms impact their work life.
“It’s made me feel normal,” said Angela, 51, who has worked for the trust for 19 years. “I was overwhelmed by the response and it showed how many of us struggle in silence through daily tasks while feeling exhausted, teary, hot and bloated
“It’s raised awareness of the topic and opened up opportunities for people to talk about their feelings, which wasn’t possible before.
“It’s no longer a taboo subject in our trust and for that I’m so pleased.”
The average age of the menopause starting in women is 51 and most will experience some symptoms including hot flushes, night sweats, fatigue and depression. The duration and severity of these symptoms varies from woman to woman.
It is widely recognised that many women suffer in silence and there are increasing calls to improve the way it is treated in the workplace.
Angela, a mother of three from Blyth, said: “The symptoms of the menopause are not well understood by the general population.
“If someone is pregnant or has a bad back they don’t whisper about it, however, that was what my colleagues and I were doing and I’m pretty sure that is what is happening in every other workplace.
“The rationale for my Facebook post was based on my own experience during this life-stage transition and the effects it has on me and those close to me. However, it dawned on me too how this stage of life is also affecting my work life.
“All of us as individuals have our own experience, our own symptoms/thoughts/ feelings and our own coping strategies. Yet it seems most of us do this alone.
“I didn’t expect it to happen like this; I just wanted to reach out to other women who were going through something similar.
“Yes, I have thought ‘oh no, everyone in the trust knows I’m going through the menopause’ but then if by sharing my own experiences I can help so many other people going through similar thing then I can live with that.
“I’ve lost count of the number of people who have come up to me and thanked me for what I’ve done and I have been touched by the impact.”
As a result of the group – officially the Menopause and Andropause (MAA) staff network group to involve male members of staff experiencing a decrease in testosterone – more support and information is available to women and other improvements are in the pipeline.
The trust has also been contacted by a number of other organisations keen to understand how they can better support their staff.
Ann Stringer, executive director of human resources and organisational development at Northumbria Healthcare, said: “Our staff are the foundation of all that we do and looking after their health and wellbeing is at the cornerstone of our organisation.
“We’re committed to creating an environment where our staff feel supported as much as possible to carry out their roles and empowered to raise issues that are affecting them in the workplace.
“It’s inconceivable to think that, with more and more women in employment and working longer, organisations don’t have anything in place to support staff at this time.
“With women aged 50 and over making up around a quarter of our workforce, providing support around the menopause is hugely important to us and I’d like to thank Angela for raising this issue and opening up this conversation.”
Northumberland County Councillor Veronica Jones, cabinet member for adult wellbeing and health, said: “Women make up half the workforce in the council, many are over 50. We want to provide support for them, rather than women feeling like they have to suffer in silence.
“The group provides an opportunity to share health and wellbeing advice and personal experiences, with the ultimate aim of improving the workplace.”