‘Breakthrough moment’: How celebrities helped change the menopause debate | menopause

Five years ago, Lauren Kelly wanted to interview a famous woman about her experience with menopause on her daytime TV show. Everyone she called refused, so she decided to turn the tables and be interviewed by a doctor about her personal story.

Kelly shared with viewers about feeling “flat and miserable” despite having lived a life she was happy with. It took a revealing consultation with TV paramedic, Hilary Jones, to learn she doesn’t suffer from depression, but does have menopausal symptoms.

“I thought, ‘No one else is going to talk about it, so I’m going to do it. It was a breakthrough moment, and that’s what I think daytime TV works so well – we’re not afraid to tackle anything.’ I had someone talking about how to do a stool test,” she said. Bowel cancer is on display this morning.”

Since meeting Kelly, attitudes toward menopause have changed dramatically. Celebrities including Gwyneth Paltrow, Oprah Winfrey and Gillian Anderson spoke out, while a game-changing documentary produced by Davina McCall in 2020 resulted in what some doctors described as the “Davina effect” among patients whose struggles in middle age suddenly made sense.

“,”caption”:”Sign up to First Edition, our free daily newsletter – every weekday morning at 7am BST”,”isTracking”:false,”isMainMedia”:false,”source”:”The Guardian”,”sourceDomain”:”theguardian.com”}”>

Subscribe to the first edition, our free daily newsletter – every weekday morning at 7am GMT

In particular, women praised the advantages of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for managing symptoms that range from hot flashes and night sweats to anxiety and depression.

This has led to an exponential growth in awareness of how debilitating menopausal symptoms can be, resulting in an unprecedented demand for treatment that culminated in a shortage of HRT this week.

Kelly said she was proud to break an old taboo. “We knew from the viewers’ response that there was a problem here, and I was able to use my own problems to help others – that’s a huge privilege and responsibility.”

I discussed the lack of HRT on this week’s show. This is a scandal. It obviously affects me personally because I’ll be running out of patches soon… You can be pretty sure if this is a problem that affects men it won’t.”

Doctors were happy to see awareness of menopausal symptoms raised by celebrities and on social media, but some worried that focusing on personal experience leads to a perception that HRT is the best treatment.

Paula Briggs, president of the British Menopause Society, said the scale of celebrity involvement in menopause was “the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen” in medicine.

While she said much was helpful, there was also “evangelical” misinformation shared on social media based on a “selective interpretation of clinical research papers”. This includes recommending higher doses of HRT, saying it’s safe for women with a history of breast cancer in their family, or claiming that it protects against dementia. “Unless you’ve had medical training and you understand, it’s very easy to take a superficial approach.”

She added that some women feel pressure to take HRT when it is not appropriate for them, with lifestyle changes such as eating a healthy diet or taking more exercise sometimes as a better starting point, or paying for private clinics.

Menopause specialist, Olivia Home, told the medical community that there was a “real concern that the debate has swung so much in the opposite direction”, with people “too afraid of menopause and symptoms.”

But, she added, McCall’s documentary “did the most good for women.”

“I’m not particularly pro-celebrity for the medical stuff, but the information I gave was very scientific…my inbox during the documentary was filled with emails from women who went, ‘Oh my God, I never realized this was menopause.'” I lost my job, my relationship… I just realized I don’t have to put up with this nonsense anymore,” she said.

Journalist Mariella Frostrup, who wrote “Breaking Menopause,” said women have been forced to share their personal experiences publicly because, like many women’s health issues, “menopause is not taken seriously enough.”

“The idea that this is something that celebrities demand, but is something superfluous, adds to the absurdity of the situation and the injustice. I think women have been incredibly poorly served by a system that nurtures them and ignores the very real suffering,” she said.

Heather Corey, former BMS chairwoman and gynecologist at the NHS, said high-profile public discourse helped quell misconceptions about HRT that arose from publicity exaggerating its risks in the late 1990s.

But, she added, some serious messages are gaining traction, for example recommending HRT for the rest of your life, while some symptoms that are more embarrassing to talk about, such as bladder problems, are being sidelined.

Individual experiences are also sometimes unhelpfully extrapolated into universal advice. Women are affected completely differently. “There is a wide range of symptoms, their severity, and their impact,” she said.

Corey said the goal should be for women to feel they can trust their doctors, which wasn’t always the case due to a lack of prior training. “The key is to have accurate, easily accessible, and consistent advice for women when they go to a healthcare professional.”