Support networks

The menopause might sometimes seem to be an invisible, unmentionable topic in wider society, but many women had discussed their symptoms, concerns and experiences with their friends, partners, female relatives and work colleagues, as well as taking part in internet forums and organised support groups. There is much overlap between ‘information’ and ‘support’ – especially when women are finding out about the menopause from their social circle (see ‘Sources of information’).

Sisters, mothers and partners
Sisters were a particular reference point for many women although sometimes the experiences varied widely within a family, e.g. if a sister had had a hysterectomy. Some partners were very understanding and supportive but clearly it was often difficult for men to truly empathise. A gay woman commented that she was pleased that she and her female partner went through the menopause at different times - empathy or not, it would have been a real emotional challenge if they had coincided.

While some had been able to have fairly open discussions with their mothers, others noted (sometimes with regret) that the older generation was less comfortable talking about these matters. Women whose mothers were no longer alive sometimes said they missed the ideas of a guiding hand to encourage them during the menopause.

Friends and colleagues
For many women, friends offered a welcome source of support. One woman told us that once she started to talk to her friends about the menopause she found it was ‘lovely’ to be open about problems with hair, skin and weight as well as mood swings and hot flushes.

Women seemed to be more willing to be open about menopausal symptoms among friends once they reached the age of 50 – those who had hot flushes pointed out that it would be pretty hard to disguise their status from people with any awareness of menopausal symptoms. Some younger women, however, said they were a bit reluctant to talk about menopausal symptoms with female friends because they felt there was a competitive element in their relationships with them. They felt that if a woman admitted to being menopausal this might dent both her attractiveness and self esteem.

In some (female dominated) work places women found that they could be quite open with their colleagues, comparing notes, joking, lending each other fans and opening windows. But a supportive work environment was by no means a universal experience and some women found it very difficult to manage their symptoms at work (see ‘Work’).

The internet as a source of support
Many women used the internet as a source of information; some also ‘met’ other women through internet forums such as Menopause Matters. Finding others who were dealing with the same issues could be an important source of support. Women with an early menopause, for example, found support from internet forums such as The Daisy Network (see ‘Early (premature) menopause’). A few women had noticed that the American chat rooms seemed to focus on different issues and concerns and it could be confusing to receive competing advice on how best to cope. (for more information on websites see 'Resources and information').

Organised support groups
Some women also talked about the need for a more organised service to provide support and advice without advocating any particular treatment approach. For women with an early menopause, organised support groups run by menopause clinics offered much needed advice and an opportunity to share experiences (see ‘Early (premature) menopause’).

Not all women feel the need for support when they are going through the menopause. Those who have no, minimal, or very manageable symptoms may even think that there is too much discussion of the negatives. Women whose menopause is straightforward may find it difficult to say so, a decision that may contribute to an impression that everyone has a hard time. One woman, for example, who ‘sailed through’ her menopause, did not speak up and felt a bit guilty when friends compared symptoms ‘I listen sympathetically and I really feel desperately sorry for them (laughs) but I just feel really quite lucky it didn’t happen to me!’ .

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Last reviewed February 2015.


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