Almost a million women have left their jobs because of menopausal symptoms. Countless others are discriminated against, denied support and openly mocked. Do they need new legal protections?
I n 2019, Mara’s weekly performance review meetings grew intolerable; she would sit in a cramped conference room with her supervisors only to be told that she wasn’t performing well enough. “I felt like a child,” says Mara, who is 48, lives in Hampshire and works and works as a public servant. “They would tell me off. They’d say: ‘You won’t meet this deadline, will you? You didn’t put a paragraph in this document.’”
A year earlier, Mara had had a hysterectomy, to alleviate her endometriosis. Afterwards, in surgically induced menopause, she began to experience debilitating brain fog, anxiety and depression. “I was drowning,” she says. “I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t see or think.” Doctors prescribed antidepressants and oestrogen gel, but nothing helped. Mara could barely function at work. “I couldn’t retain anything,” she says. “I had no memory. I couldn’t see or think clearly enough to do my work. I had no confidence at all. I thought I was useless.”
Mara told her supervisors she had depression and anxiety, and submitted a doctor’s note, but they put her on a first warning. At the time she didn’t realise her depression was linked to the menopause - all she knew was that she needed help. (In the autumn of 2019, a specialist explained that her symptoms were caused by the menopause, and provided her with a doctor’s note explaining this to her employers, but they continued to monitor her performance, as they’d done previously.)