After almost driving into oncoming traffic during a desperate moment after surgery brought on early menopause, Diane Danzebrink has talked candidly about the effect the menopause had on her mental health.
While hot flushes and night sweats are common side effects of the menopause, the impact on women’s mental health is often not fully recognised. It’s all a natural part of ageing – for some.
Others are catapulted into it early after surgery or medical treatment. Diane, from Stewkley, found that the very sudden and abrupt change in her hormones left her “unable to function” or work for months after she had a hysterectomy at 45.
And she’s not alone. One in four women experience debilitating menopause symptoms that can last up to 15 years, according to research.
Almost half say they feel depressed, while more than a third said they suffer from anxiety. Despite this, more than two thirds of UK women say there is a general lack of support or advice for those going through the change.
Diane found herself in a “very deep, dark place” and almost drove head-on into a lorry in desperation, and now she is campaigning for better help for other sufferers.
“I was having extremely heavy periods, migraines and pelvic and lower back pain,” she explained. “My periods were making me house-bound for days.”
For three months after the surgery, she found the first flushes bearable but soon she began to suffer a severe drop in her mood.
She became a far cry from the confident woman who ran two internet businesses she was before. Her husband, Martin had to take over running them as well as looking after the home.
She said: “I was so anxious I couldn’t leave the house and my mum had to come stay with me so my husband could go to work because I couldn’t bear to be by myself. I couldn’t sleep, I would wake up in the night with this feeling of blackness and sheer hopelessness.”
Diane had refused hormone replacement therapy (HRT) as she was put off after reading it was made from horse urine.
However, she hadn’t been made aware by any healthcare professionals that other options were available.
She feels this lack of information and support could have cost her her life.
“I really should have been on HRT, especially at 45. I know now I had something of a reserve of my hormones in my fat cells that probably made me feel okay for the first few months but then I sunk into such a low and no wonder because both of my ovaries were suddenly gone.
“I hadn’t taken my four Jack Russells out for months but tried to one day. That’s when I was driving on a duel carriageway and I saw a big lorry and I thought I could make a sharp, sudden turn into it and it would all be over. I felt like I’d become a problem for everyone.
“I only stopped because one of my dogs made a noise. I’d forgotten they were in the car I was so distressed.”
She told Martin what happened and he called her GP who prescribed her a plant based body-identical oestrogen, and her symptoms began to get better. “It like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders,” she said. “I could begin to function again.”
Now Diane is a counsellor and coach working with women who are struggling with the menopause.
“Sometimes their doctors don’t recognise their symptoms or their employers offer no support or their partners, families and friends don’t understand,” she said.
Her experience prompted her to launch the #MakeMenopauseMatter campaign to call on the government to improve menopause healthcare, particularly better GP education, the introduction of guidance in the workplace and for the inclusion of menopause education in the PSHE curriculum.
“I was doing some research and I took a look at the most recent suicide figures produced by the Office for National Statistics. The age group for women with the highest suicide rate per 100,000 in the UK is 50-54, the average age of menopause is 51.
“I can’t prove there is a link but I feel that shows we should be investigating this. We have to ask why a problem that affects half the population isn’t being properly addressed.”
To sign Diane’s Change.org campaign, visit: https://www.change.org/p/penny-mordaunt-mp-make-menopause-matter-in-healthcare-the-workplace-and-education-makemenopausematter