10 things we learned from Davina McCall: Sex, Myths and the Menopause

The Channel 4 documentary has received widespread praise for exposing the short-fallings in the way women’s health has been handled

Joanna Whitehead
Thursday 13 May 2021 14:38 BST
Davina McCall delves into the issues facing women with menopause in Channel 4 Dispatches

Davina McCall: Sex, Myths and the Menopause aired on Channel 4 last night to a deluge of praise on social media regarding this taboo issue.

The TV presenter spoke frankly about her own experiences of menopause, revealing that she started getting symptoms when she was 44.

On a photo-shoot in Prague, McCall recalls being inexplicably unable to sleep: “The day after, I felt like I’d aged 10 years overnight”, she said.

“I got such a bad hot flush in a make-chair one day that I asked the make-up lady if the chair was heated,” she smiles wryly. “They looked at me as if I was really weird.”

Associating hot flushes and the menopause as “something that happens to women in their fifties”, the 53-year-old admitted she then “got in touch with some real shame around it. And I felt embarrassed”.

During the programme, the ex-Big Brother host spoke to a range of women and professionals, including Hayley Cockman, who experienced the menopause at the age of 14, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi who suffered from “brain fog” in the House of Lords, and Zoe Ball, who described her experience of the menopause as being comprised of “terrible mood swings, anxiety, panic attacks, weight gain and loss of libido – I really thought it was the beginning of the end”.

Shining a light on the dearth of reliable information that exists about this vital period of a woman’s life, she spoke to those trying to dispel myths, eradicate stigma and start this long overdue conversation.

Viewers flocked to social media to share their own stories of being ignored and dismissed when trying to seek help and support for this entirely natural part of a woman’s life.

MP Jess Phillips tweeted: “Feel furious watching @ThisisDavina programme about the menopause.

“Why oh why does no one research the stuff that kills women and messes up our lives. We are never anyone’s priority politically, medically, scientifically. Past looking pretty and giving birth we are a burden.”

So, what were the main takeaways from last night’s ground-breaking programme?

In one survey of almost 3,000 women, two-thirds were offered antidepressants for menopausal symptoms

Joint pains, hair loss, anxiety and insomnia are all recognisable symptoms of the menopause, which can be mistaken for depression.

The menopause is a voluntary, extra “e-module” doctors can opt to do on top of their basic training. There is no compulsory, extensive menopause training for health professionals

Dr Nick Panay, a gynaecologist and leading expert in menopausal science, has been calling for more training for the last 10 years. “We need the Royal College of GPs to take this onboard and include menopause and hormone therapy as part of their routine curriculum for these doctors so that each one will come out with those skills,” he said.

There is only one specialist menopausal NHS clinic between Leeds and Scotland

There are only 97 specialist menopausal NHS clinics across the UK. Regional disparities mean that there are only four in Wales and just one in Birmingham. Some parts of northern England have none.

After the menopause, 80 per cent of women will have symptoms relating to vaginal dryness, yet studies have shown that only around eight per cent of women will receive treatment for this

Vaginal oestrogen supplements can resolve this issue, but these are currently only available through a GP prescription, however.

51 per cent of women said the menopause had affected their sex life

Former nurse and sex toy company owner Samantha Evans encouraged women to use the correct lubricants to combat vaginal dryness and promoted the use of sex toys – for use with a partner or alone – advocating that orgasms are good for our health.

Nine out of 10 women felt menopause had a negative impact on their working life

Menopausal women are the fastest growing group of workers. There are now 4.3 million women in this category. One in 10 companies now implement some sort of menopausal policy aimed at supporting women during this period.

Only one in 10 women are on HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy)

A landmark study by the Women’s Health Institute released to the media in 2002 linked HRT to an increased risk of breast cancer and heart attacks. It resulted in 50 per cent of women abandoning their HRT, despite the fact that the sample and methods it used were unreliable and applicable only to a narrow group of women.

Women are doubly at risk from developing Alzheimer’s later in life than men

This is because oestrogen significantly reduces around the menopause. Since 2011, the number one killer of women in the UK is Alzheimer’s and dementia. Much more research is required into this.

The average age for menopause is 51

A recent study revealed that one in three women don’t visit their GP about menopause.

One in two women over 50 break a bone because of osteoporosis

Strength training can help minimise this risk.

Davina McCall: Sex, Myths and the Menopause is available to view on All4 for the next 30 days

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