Wellbeing Wednesday 20 October 2021

Jane Fowler

Jane Fowler – Head of Customer Support Services

Hello and welcome to this week’s WBW. We have lots of very practical information for you this week – and as with all of our wellbeing topics, although today’s issues may not apply to you directly, they are very likely to affect your family, friends or colleagues – so please read and learn!! The more we are all able to walk in each other’s shoes, the kinder and more tolerant a workplace we will all have.

Our attitudes to talking openly about issues such as menopause (in common with many other topics we have covered in WBW) have changed dramatically over the last few years. It is interesting that human beings create so many taboos around aspects of our biological bodies. Every woman goes through the menopause and it can have very significant health and wellbeing impacts, but until very recently we just didn’t talk about it. No more! The last couple of years have seen a transformation in public awareness and willingness to speak out on this topic. And the best thing about this is that women can now access the support and information that they need and that employers are aware of the real impact this can have on our working lives. Our wellbeing team have developed guidance on the menopause for both employees and managers. Please have a look – it is intended to be practical and helpful.

Our other issue for this week – very topical as we look to the clocks changing back again – is on how daylight – or more importantly the lack of it, affects us, our health and our mood.  Seasonal Affective Disorder can be easy to dismiss – ‘it is wet and dark, no wonder you feel depressed’.. But as a disorder that can cause serious depression as lack of daylight disrupts our hormones it is important to be informed about. We have information and links below – please take the time to have a look.

And as the sun has just come out after what seems like days and days of rain – I am now going to the door and stand in the sunlight for a few minutes! I will be on leave next week (looking forward to it), so Carolyn McAlpine, HROD Manager will be bringing you Wellbeing Wednesday next week. Thanks, Carolyn. Look after yourselves and see you soon.

World Menopause Day 2021 – Bone Health

The theme for World Menopause Day 2021 is Bone Health.  World Menopause Day is held every year on the 18th October to raise awareness of menopause and the support options available for improving health and wellbeing.

As women enter menopause, their oestrogen and progesterone levels begin to fall. Oestrogen acts as a natural protector and defender of bone strength. The lack of oestrogen contributes to the development of osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis is a health condition that weakens bones, making them fragile and more likely to break. It develops slowly over several years and is often only diagnosed when a fall or sudden impact causes a bone to break (fracture).

Decreased oestrogen levels aren’t the only cause for osteoporosis, losing bone is a normal part of ageing, but some people lose bone much faster than normal. This can lead to osteoporosis and an increased risk of broken bones.

Women lose bone rapidly in the first few years after the menopause. Women are more at risk of osteoporosis than men, particularly if the menopause begins early (before the age of 45) or they’ve had their ovaries removed.

Treating osteoporosis

Treatment for osteoporosis is based on treating and preventing broken bones, and taking medicine to strengthen your bones.

The decision about whether you need treatment depends on your risk of breaking a bone in the future. This will be based on a number of factors such as your age, sex and the results of your bone density scan.

If you need treatment, your doctor can suggest the safest and most effective treatment plan for you.

Preventing osteoporosis

If you’re at risk of developing osteoporosis, you should take steps to help keep your bones healthy. This may include:

  • taking regular exercise to keep your bones as strong as possible
  • healthy eating – including foods rich in calcium and vitamin D
  • taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D
  • making lifestyle changes – such as giving up smoking and reducing your alcohol consumption

You can find out more at NHS Osteoporosis

What is the menopause?

The menopause is a natural part of the female aging process and will be different for every woman.  There are a range of symptoms related to the menopause, so of which may not be obvious to others and others can be particularly challenging to deal with, especially while at work and many women may not feel comfortable talking about these issues with their colleagues and or their manager.

Information about the menopause is not just for women.  As a male manager and a colleague it is important that you understand some of the issues that can affect female members in your team, as well as family and friends, and be able to provide support where required.

Did you know?

  • Menopause normally occurs between the ages of 45 and 55 although it can occur at any time up to a woman’s mid-60s
  • The average age for a woman to reach the menopause in the UK is 51
  • Symptoms usually last between 4 and 8 years
  • 20-25% of women suffer from hot flushes which adversely affect their quality of life
  • Around 75-80% of women of menopausal age are working
  • Approximately 1 in 3 British workers are over the age of 50

Therefore, there are a lot of potentially menopausal women in the workplace and around 75% of them will experience at least some symptoms while 25% will experience severe symptoms. 

If a women does not get the help and support they need at work, it is increasingly likely that the effects of the menopause can, for example, lead to them feeling ill; losing confidence in their ability to do their job; suffer from mental health conditions such as stress, anxiety and depression and, in severe cases, consider leaving their job.

Therefore, it is vital that employers acknowledge and understand the impact of the menopause on employees, and provide guidance and support for those affected by it.

The Council has recently launched a Guide to the Menopause for managers and employees which provides useful information on the impact of menopausal symptoms on women at work and ways in which managers and colleagues can provide support, where required, as well as some useful contacts for further information and advice. 

If you are struggling to deal with the menopause there is lots of help and advice available.

Menopause Matters

Menopause – NHS

Royal Osteoporosis Society

The employee assistance programme Health Assured is also available for advice and support and you can also speak to a member of the Wellbeing Team.

Seasonal affective disorder

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern.

SAD is sometimes known as “winter depression” because the symptoms are usually more apparent and more severe during the winter.

A few people with SAD may have symptoms during the summer and feel better during the winter.

Symptoms of SAD can include:

  • a persistent low mood
  • a loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities
  • irritability
  • feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness
  • feeling lethargic (lacking in energy) and sleepy during the day
  • sleeping for longer than normal and finding it hard to get up in the morning
  • craving carbohydrates and gaining weight

For some people, these symptoms can be severe and have a significant impact on their day-to-day activities.

When to see a GP

You should consider seeing a GP if you think you might have SAD and you’re struggling to cope.  The GP can carry out an assessment to check your mental health. They may ask you about your mood, lifestyle, eating habits and sleeping patterns, plus any seasonal changes in your thoughts and behaviour.

What causes SAD?

The exact cause of SAD is not fully understood, but it’s often linked to reduced exposure to sunlight during the shorter autumn and winter days.

The main theory is that a lack of sunlight might stop a part of the brain called the hypothalamus working properly, which may affect the:

  • production of melatonin – melatonin is a hormone that makes you feel sleepy; in people with SAD, the body may produce it in higher than normal levels
  • production of serotonin – serotonin is a hormone that affects your mood, appetite and sleep; a lack of sunlight may lead to lower serotonin levels, which is linked to feelings of depression
  • body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm) – your body uses sunlight to time various important functions, such as when you wake up, so lower light levels during the winter may disrupt your body clock and lead to symptoms of SAD

It’s also possible that some people are more vulnerable to SAD as a result of their genes, as some cases appear to run in families.

Treatments for SAD

A range of treatments are available for SAD and your GP will recommend the most suitable treatment programme for you.

The main treatments are:

  • lifestyle measures – including getting as much natural sunlight as possible, exercising regularly and managing your stress levels
  • light therapy – where a special lamp called a light box is used to simulate exposure to sunlight
  • talking therapies – such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

You can find more information on SAD on the NHS website

Please also let us know your thoughts and ideas about the items featured in our Wellbeing Wednesdays each week and send us your suggestions for future topics – we love to hear from you.

The Wellbeing Team: