Why Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust is hosting first Menopause Festival - Alex Cowman

Menopause is an issue that will impact every woman at some point throughout her life.

Pic: PA.
Pic: PA.

Within the NHS, more than 76 per cent of the workforce are female, and this number continues to grow every year.

Finding the necessary support during this time can feel like a never-ending up-hill struggle, and there is still a huge stigma attached to speaking out about some of the more difficult side-effects.

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Brain fog, tiredness, extreme anxiety, agitation and even depression, can lead to women questioning where they belong in the workforce, and some women have reported feeling as though they are no longer able to carry out their role, even if this is within a team that they’ve been a part of for years.

Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (LYPFT) has a workforce of over 3,000 colleagues, and over 72 per cent of these are women, with 53 per cent of them aged 40 or above.

To ensure that their colleagues feel adequately supported in finding information and resources that can support them throughout the menopause, LYPFT is staging its first Menopause Festival.

The event, at Headingley Enterprise and Arts Centre tomorrow, will bring together 27 special guests, including Yorkshire-based menopause experts, and holistic wellbeing practitioners, to provide advice on how to cope better with menopausal symptoms and where to find additional help and support.

The varied programme includes talks, group discussions, Q&A sessions, facilitated reflective spaces, and holistic wellbeing stalls, alongside a range of activities including dance, art, poetry, and yoga.

Expert guests will be there to provide advice on a wide range of topics including treatments, symptoms management, sleep, nutrition, and sex.

Just after I joined LYPFT in March 2021, a colleague contacted me and very openly shared her struggle with the menopause, and the fact that she had found it extremely difficult to find any support. I decided to set up a monthly Menopause Support Group, and she kindly co-facilitated the first group with me.

It became clear early on that there are a lot of women who can’t go down the traditional path of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), due to past cancer diagnosis or other medical issues, so as well as supporting colleagues through their HRT journey, it was important to share information of what other support is available.

My lovely colleagues from Leeds Recovery College had had similar discussions and were hoping to run an event specifically aimed at supporting women through the menopause, so we were able to work together and bring the first NHS Menopause Festival to life.

Leeds Recovery College (www.leedsrecoverycollege.com) offer a range of free courses and workshops which focus on mental health and improving wellbeing. Their courses are open to all adults who live, work or study in Leeds, and you don’t need to be referred to the college, have a mental health diagnosis, or be supported by a mental health service to attend.

With a majority female workforce, over 66 per cent, all of whom will be impacted by the menopause at some point, we wanted to provide a wide range of support that people may not have known was available.

There is a huge number of women who are unable to take HRT, and if this is the case, it can feel as though there isn’t any other support for them to engage with. With this in mind, we have tried to make the day as varied as possible.

As well as having expert speakers who work in the medical field and specialise in menopause, such as GPs, we also have reiki healers, yoga teachers, sex experts, mindfulness coaches, nutritionists, herbalists, artists, photographers, poets, and authors.

We want everyone that joins us on the day to leave and feel that they have engaged with something that will be able to help them. Support for women during this time is crucial, and thanks to people like Davina McCall, conversations are starting to happen more publicly, but we still feel that there is a lot of work to be done.

As an NHS Trust, we’re keen to build on the success of the support group and the reception that the festival has already received, by ensuring that menopause support for our staff is robust and holistic, so that nobody feels unable to have a conversation within work about how this is impacting them.

Alex Cowman is Head of Wellbeing at Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.

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