Dr Louise Newson, one of the UK’s top menopause specialists, believes medical misogyny is to blame for the poor treatment of menopausal anxiety and depression.
She’s coming to Australia in October to speak at the inaugural Asia-Pacific Conference on Women’s Mental Health to discuss the connection between menopause and mental health.
Dr Newson shares information daily with nearly half a million Instagram followers who are sure to want to see her speak in person.
Perimenopause generally happens when women are between 45-54 years old. A third of those women will experience perimenopausal anxiety and depression. It also has the highest rate for suicide in a woman’s life.
My life took a change for the worse when perimenopausal depression poleaxed me.
“There’s one thing struggling with a bit of night sweats or some joint pains, but actually when it’s your mental health, this is a real crisis,” says Dr Newson.
“UK women are no different to Australian women or women in any other country, they might just express it in different ways,” she adds. “And I’m not saying every woman has these extremes but one in three women get depression or anxiety during the menopause.”
Research undertaken by Professor Jayashri Kulkarni, Director of the HER Centre Australia and Monash Psychiatry research centre shows anti-depressants are not the best way to treat peri and menopausal depression and anxiety.
Prof Kulkarni’s research shows peri and menopausal depression should be treated differently than regular depression because it’s a hormonal imbalance. Therefore, it should be treated with hormones. It’s about creating a direct impact to your hormones and your brain chemistry.
Despite mental health education campaigns and awareness-raising, women are still made to feel it’s taboo to talk about mental health challenges during midlife.
“I think there’s a lot of misogyny,” says Dr Newson. “There’s a lot of medical gaslighting, there’s a lot of patriarchal medicine that’s going on.”
Both Prof Kulkarni and Dr Newson agree, gynaecologists aren’t looking at women’s mental health enough and psychiatrists aren’t prescribing hormones enough, and that needs to change.
And boy is Dr Newson getting blow back. It’s turned into a witch hunt in her home country. She has come under fire for prescribing over the set limits for HRT.
She responded just as strongly, explaining in an article in The Independent that she follows evidence-based protocols but, “retains the clinical freedom to tailor patients’ treatments according to clinical need. Within an informed consent framework, I provide patients with a treatment plan that suits their individual requirements.”
Sadly, most of the obstacles Newson is facing is from within the medical fraternity, “When I pushed back and said, ‘What is your concern?’ One of them said to me recently, ‘Well, you are not a gynaecologist.’”
Newson’s reaction was a masterclass in mic-drop moments, “I’ve got a pathology degree that’s a first-classhonours degree. I’ve got an honours degree in my medicine degree. I’m a member of the Royal College of the Physicians, and I’m a fellow of the Royal College of GPs. What qualifications do I have that mean that I can’t read the same papers as you and then treat people?’ They really didn’t like that at all.”
In my opinion, it’s not that different in Australia, through my role as part of the first-ever parliamentary round table on menopause, I discovered the peak menopause bodies and their research royalty are high on ego and low on empathy for real women. It was far from inclusive, in fact often combative.
Leaving everyday women struggling to get evidence-based help while the experts fight each other to protect their patch.
It should always come down to choice. Some women thrive on HRT, others find solace in lifestyle changes. It’s your life, your body, your choice.
Dr Newson agrees, “I feel we should be allowed a choice, and we should know that as women we should be able to change our mind as well. We need to be treated as an individual and listened to by health care professionals.”
“My wish is that everybody has the right education and support. I wish that there was access that was, if it’s not free, but really cheap so no one is finding it difficult to access hormones.”
“I wish there was just less stigma about it and less of this bullying and behind-the-scenes witch hunt that’s going on because it’s really not helpful. We need to realise we haven’t got all the evidence, but actually, we’ve got a lot of common sense, basic science, physiology, pharmacology knowledge that is valid.”
The curtain is slowly rising on the reality of menopause and mental health, thanks to champions like Dr Newson. The fight isn’t over, but with advocates like her, the future for peri and menopausal women is looking a bit less sweaty and a lot more sane.