Mumsnet contributes to All-Party Parliamentary Group on the menopause
On Wednesday 8th September Justine Roberts, founder of Mumsnet, contributed to the All-Party Parliamentary group about how Mumsnet supports women going through the menopause and perimenopause and what we’ve found out about what is needed.
By Mumsnet HQ | Last updated Oct 18, 2021
Mumsnet is an online community of around 8 million users, founded in 2000. Some of our users joined us years ago, and as their children have grown they’ve stayed with us and are now in their 40s and 50s, and menopausal or peri menopausal. Some have joined more recently after finding Mumsnet while searching for information about the menopause; others are women who joined Mumsnet for other reasons but are having early or medical menopauses.
Across Mumsnet and our sister site Gransnet - the biggest forum for the over 50s - pages directly related to the menopause and perimenopause attracted three and a half million views in the last year alone. We have been campaigning to help women have a better menopause by making HRT readily available to women who need it, providing more menopause training for GPs, and ensuring anti-depressants aren’t prescribed where HRT is more clinically appropriate.
Our users repeatedly tell us that when it comes to the menopause they feel as though they aren’t listened to. One said:
My (female) GP looked at me blankly when I mentioned perimenopause. She doesn't appear to have heard of it. She tried to fob everything off as anxiety.
Our surveys have found this user isn’t alone. In 2021, we found that nearly four in ten women seeking treatment for perimenopause symptoms say their GP told them they’d just have to learn to live with it, while 26% of those who sought help for menopause symptoms, say they visited their GP three times or more before being prescribed appropriate medication or help. Misdiagnosis is another common theme, with 16% of those who sought help for menopause symptoms saying their GPs wrongly prescribed antidepressants’.
Another of our surveys in 2019 revealed that just 35% of those going through the menopause say they are on HRT, despite it being a NICE recommended treatment for symptoms associated with the menopause and perimenopause.
Mumsnet is one of the few female-dominated communities where users can share knowledge and support each other. As well as peer to peer advice, where women going through the perimenopause and menopause can discuss issues and share advice and just realise they’re not alone, we also host experts, such as Dr Louise Newson, to give informed medical advice.
The discussions on our forum show there are extensive gaps in women’s knowledge about a process that almost all women will go through or have gone through - gaps which aren’t filled by school, GPs or other sources. One discussion about menopause from last year was entitled (apologies for the language!) ‘Why did I not know I’d feel this s***?’ and was viewed over 39,000 times. Language analysis reveals that many menopause discussions on Mumsnet begin ‘Is it just me…’ or ‘Is it normal that…?’ and many of the responses include the phrase: ‘Thought it was just me’. Some have only heard about the perimenopause because of reading posts on Mumsnet - as one user said,
I’m so grateful to [the Am I being Unreasonable forum] for making me aware of the perimenopause
Another said she had had no idea about the help available before talking to users on Mumsnet, who encouraged her to badger her GP. She wrote:
Thank you so much everyone. I called the surgery this morning and explained that I was concerned that the GP I spoke to wasn't following the NICE guidelines and I've been booked an appointment with the Gynae specialist at our surgery (I didn't even know we had one!)
Another gap in women’s knowledge is different kinds of treatment, their effects and efficacy: a thread on how long it takes HRT to start working got 12,700 views, and a thread about Vagifem got 18,000 views.
Because Mumsnet is anonymous, users are also able to talk about taboos like libido changes (whether it’s an increase in desire or a decrease), body image, and weight, with many women discussing how difficult they find it to maintain a healthy weight during the menopause.
Work is a big issue for lots of our users; 11,600 of them viewed a thread about how to hide their symptoms at work, which is a pretty sad indictment of how confident women feel about employers’ responses. Covid vaccinations have also been a big talking point this year as, in the absence of other data, users turn to Mumsnet to discover if the changes to their periods is a normal response to the vaccine or a sign of the menopause. And many come to Mumsnet for longer running support threads - like a communal diary - where users document their feelings and symptoms, build up online friendships, and get support from others in the same situation.
It is clear from our users’ questions, and the sheer numbers viewing these discussions on Mumsnet and Gransnet, that those going through the perimenopause and menopause need more. They need access to suitable medications, and better conversations with healthcare professionals about what’s available; there is some evidence on our sites, for example, that women are interested in plant-based alternatives or natural remedies, but aren’t getting much informed input from their GPs on that. (One woman asked her GP about plant-based HRT and was given a cake recipe.) They need more information about what is happening to their bodies, more support from their employers, more empathy from their friends, families and partners, and more support from society as a whole.