The topic of menopause has been emerging more and more into public consciousness in recent years, leading to a powerful outpouring of women’s experiences on theradio programme last year. With a proliferation of online support, a growing number of books on the subject, as well as two planned documentaries on Irish television, the appetite for information has never been greater.
This is something Catherine O’Keeffe has seen first-hand in her role as a menopause coach and through her Wellness Warrior website. Now she is gathering a host of experts and speakers for a summit in Cork that aims to support women on their menopause journey. O’Keeffe says she was inspired to bring the in-person event to Cork for the first time after the success of a virtual summit held last September.
“We got huge feedback after the virtual event, we had more than 400 people taking part, it was brilliant. Women are desperate for information, and it is changing by the week, you want to make sure you are staying on top of it,” she says.
Experts from Cork taking part in the summit include menopause specialist Dr Brenda Moran who will deal with issues around HRT and consultant gynaecologist Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan, who will discuss pelvic/urinary conditions as well as vaginal and sexual health. Other contributors include British menopause activist Diane Danzebrink, Irish neuroscientist Dr Sabina Brennan, Cork-based skincare expert Sherna Malone, and scientist Tom Coleman who will discuss sleep challenges.
O’Keeffe says the summit will also be a forum for topical issues such as ongoing HRT shortages which are causing significant distress for women.
“That is purely down to supply and demand — there are so many women looking for HRT transdermally now and so few companies making it. There is no magic bullet. That will only be impacted as more companies start producing transdermal forms of HRT, which is not going to happen overnight. There needs to be more companies manufacturing HRT in a tight and controlled environment, which is very important.”
O’Keeffe says she has made representations to the Government on behalf of women experiencing shortages and expects to discuss the matter further with political representatives at the end of the month.
Also appearing at the summit will be Cork woman Kathleen Mullins who appeared on the latest series of. Her struggles with her weight and other issues resonated with many women going through peri-menopause and menopause.
According to O’Keeffe, as well as imparting important information to women, the summit also offers an opportunity to share insights with others in a supportive environment. “You find when you do events, particularly around menopause, the camaraderie in the room is just magic. For women, even sitting beside each other, learning things, is valuable. It is really empowering.”
As for the major shift in attitude towards discussing menopause, O’Keeffe says the establishment of the Women’s Health Taskforce in 2019, which made it a priority, was a tipping point.
“That was a major catalyst for change — and I think we will see more happening around that this year. One big thing is a national education programme, including a Department of Health website dedicated to menopause, which we hopefully will see before the end of this year.
"It is a culmination of a lot of different things — the taskforce, all the voices talking about menopause, Davina McCall’s [Channel 4] documentary, the Liveline discussion; we also have two Irish documentaries on the way. I would be really hoping we would achieve a lot in the next 18 months if Minister Stephen Donnelly does everything he has committed to…we will see. We are also working on getting menopause into schools and on to the SPHE curriculum. There is a lot that needs to happen but we are in a very good space.”
O’Keeffe is also hoping that men will attend the summit. “We had men at the virtual summit so I am hoping that men will come to this too,” she says.
O’Keeffe says the summit will also be exploring the role of complementary therapies in managing menopause. She is particularly aware of the wide range of products aimed at menopausal women coming on stream and says they need to be aware of what works and what doesn’t.
“It is something I am asked about a lot — I only work with people and products that I can stand behind and vouch for. Menopause can be expensive and if you are going to spend your money, I am happier if you spend it on something that you know will help you. I have had women come to me and they bring a bag of stuff… they are taking things because they were told to and they don’t even know if it is helping them. There are some brilliant supplements out there, there are some that aren’t so good.”
O’Keeffe acknowledges that women of menopausal age can often struggle to look after their own needs at a time when their caring, work and household responsibilities can be overwhelming.
“This is not self-care, it’s crucial care. You have to look after yourself in menopause, otherwise you will just be overtaken by the symptoms, particularly from the stress point of view, because we know that exacerbates the majority of symptoms.”
Ultimately, she says, knowledge is power.
“I always try and give women the information so they are able to make an informed choice. That is why I called it the Menopause Success Summit because I want it to be positive. That is all you want for any woman, that they don’t go through the loneliness, isolation and challenging psychological symptoms that you can go through. We also want to keep it uplifting, it is really important that women come away from it empowered and thinking, ‘right I can handle this, this isn’t as scary as it is sometimes made out to be’.
- The Menopause Success Summit takes place Saturday, May 21 at the Radisson Blu Hotel, Little Island, Cork. Early bird tickets, €145. www.menopausesuccesssummit.com