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Navigating Menopause and Neurodiversity

Mar 25, 2024

5-minute read

Introduction

With 18% of women looking to leave their jobs due to menopause symptoms, it is crucial to ensure inclusivity and support for all employees (CIPD, 2022). The intersection of menopause with neurodiversity adds another layer of complexity to understanding and managing this transition, yet by recognising and accommodating the unique needs of neurodivergent individuals you can promote a more equitable and understanding work environment for all.

In this blog, we look at the daily challenges individuals face during the stages of menopause and how without the correct support it can have an impact in the workplace.

What is menopause?

Menopause, a natural biological process, marks the end of the menstrual cycle due to the ovaries no longer producing eggs. It’s a significant phase in a woman’s life, characterised by several stages:

  • Perimenopause: when you begin to experience symptoms, but your periods continue.
  • Menopause: the perimenopause ends after not having a period for approximately 12 months. You then naturally enter menopause, usually between the ages of 45 and 55.
  • Premature menopause: when menopause occurs before the age of forty.
  • Post-menopause: any time after menopause.

According to a 2023 NHS guide, 77% of women experience menopause symptoms and a quarter of these women experience severe symptoms. The symptoms of perimenopause and menopause vary from person to person but may include cognitive and psychological symptoms such as brain fog, vasomotor, musculoskeletal, digestive, and sleep-related issues.

PMS, PMDD, and the perimenopause

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) affects 90% of women and covers a wide range of physical and emotional symptoms felt before a period (National Library of Medicine, 2021). A more severe form of PMS, also known as premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) affects around 5% of women (National Library of Medicine, 2023). PMDD displays a pronounced correlation with ADHD and Autism. Symptoms experienced include extreme mood swings, lack of energy, feeling irritable, and problems with sleeping. Unfortunately, perimenopause can make an individual’s PMS or PMDD worse.

Intersex, non-binary, and transgender employees’ experience of menopause

Hormone therapy often becomes a lifelong regimen for transgender women, potentially leading to menopausal-like symptoms. Trans men who opt not to undergo hormone therapy and keep their ovaries may eventually go through the age-related menopause process.

Non-binary individuals’ experiences with menopause will depend on several factors, such as their assigned sex at birth and their medical treatments. While it’s inappropriate to inquire about these personal details, it is crucial to be aware of them and respect the individual’s autonomy in deciding the support and accommodations they require.

Intersex people may also experience menopause, depending on a range of variables, including their assigned sex at birth and medical treatments. Similarly, it is essential to be mindful of these factors and empower individuals to determine their needs for assistance and adjustments.

Understanding neurodiversity and menopause

While research is limited, studies have explored the impact that hormonal changes due to menopause can have on neurodivergent individuals. A study conducted by Hardy and Kovacs (2021) suggests that hormonal fluctuations during menopause can influence neural pathways that are already distinct in individuals who are neurodivergent. In addition, menopause can play a role in discovering their neurodivergence, as characteristics become more apparent (National Autistic Society, 2024).

  • ADHD: when going through menopause estrogen levels decline, and this can impact the neurotransmitters in the brain that are responsible for regulating emotions, organizational skills, and memory (Berkshire Healthcare, 2024).
  • Autism: menopause can affect people in several ways including difficulty with emotional regulation, social interaction, and the lack of predictability around your bodily and sensory experience (National Autistic Society, 2024). In addition, a study by The British Psychological Society (2020) found that people with Autism found it impossible to mask during menopause.
  • Dyslexia: as working and verbal memory is affected this can be heightened due to the brain fog which is associated with menopause.

Navigating menopause in the workplace

The wide range of symptoms and their duration can make it difficult for women to remain at work without sufficient support. Unfortunately, societal taboos and stigma surrounding menopause often prevent open dialogue in the workplace as they fear judgment and discrimination. A survey conducted by the British Menopause Society (2023) revealed that 50% of women felt their menopause symptoms negatively affected their work performance, and 25% had taken sick leave due to symptoms.

In February of this year, The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) recognised that severe menopause symptoms could be considered a disability if it impacts the ability to carry out day-to-day activities. Therefore, if for the individual the symptoms are considered a disability, then the employer is legally obligated to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace.

Tips for creating better menopause support at work

  1. Establish menopause at work policy: creating and incorporating guidance about menopause at work will demonstrate commitment and address any underlying stigmas.
  2. Offer reasonable adjustments and greater flexibility: flexible working benefits all employees but especially for women going through menopause it unlocks greater freedom and flexibility.
  3. Offer Menopause Awareness Training to employees: Thriiver offers Awareness Training that can be delivered to anyone within the organisation, to raise awareness on this sensitive matter as well as how to identify and regularly review necessary support.
  4. Promote health-related benefits: access to additional health support such as Dr Morton which is a medical helpline that offers a remote and fast service to access experienced UK doctors, where any employee can voice their personal health concerns When assisting with menopause, the service offers advice and guidance.
  5. Use HR software to track and report on menopause-related absences.

Conclusion

Menopause is a natural and inevitable phase in a woman’s life, yet its impact extends far beyond individual experience. Understanding the diverse ways in which individuals experience menopause and, acknowledging the intersectionality of menopause with neurodiversity in the workplace, allows for advocating policy changes and fostering a culture of inclusivity that not only benefits women navigating this transition but enriches the entire workforce. Through proactive measures and a commitment to understanding, organisations can create inclusive environments regardless of gender or neurodiversity.

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