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What we can learn from World Menopause Day, by Pauline Garvey

GeorgianaMurariu17 January 2020

To mark and celebrate World Menopause Day, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Association (INMA) in collaboration with Loretta Dignam, founder of the organisation the Menopause Hub held an evening event entitled ‘#No Taboo’. To this event Dignam invited speakers who are specialists in the area including a dietitian, a consultant nurse from the NHS (UK) and singer Mary Coughlan amongst others.

Coinciding with the event, the INMA issued a position paper to assist their members and other women in the workplace to recognise the issue, noting that:

“…there are over 300,000 women working in Ireland between the ages of 45 and 64, and around 80% of those will experience symptoms leading up to menopause.  We would like to work with employers to create positive employment policies, as we do with other health and wellbeing-related issues. Currently there is an absence of policies on this issue.” [1]

One of the objectives of the event was to remove the perceived taboos surrounding menopause and encourage members of the general public to engage with such issues. The event was fully booked, and not only did women turn up in numbers, but in some cases their partners were anxious for them to attend. One woman’s husband picked her up from work and surprised her with a ticket and spent the evening ‘wandering around town’ while waiting for her.

A couple of issues were notable about the event. Firstly, except for the son of one of the speakers, no men attended. This is remarkable considering that half the world’s population is affected by menopause and indeed as it was reported later that menopausal women are ‘the fastest growing demographic section in the world’ (Hourican 2019). What other physical or medical condition would attract an audience of exclusively one sex?

Secondly, the keynote given by Barbara Taylor, a retired gynaecologist and writer, was memorable. In the talk itself, and later followed up in national media, Taylor made the point that ‘…most of the conversations we do have, are misplaced. We spend too much time talking about HRT versus no HRT, about breast cancer risks, even debating whether or not menopause is a ‘Thing’. In fact, we should be talking about heart health, osteoporosis, and Alzheimer’s’. Taylor’s point is not that issues surrounding HRT are unimportant, but that they eclipse other equally important health concerns such as the risk of cardiovascular disease after reaching menopause and the higher occurrence of Alzheimer’s disease among women than among men.  One of the most striking and memorable results of the event therefore was the light it shone on the absences  and silences that surround menopause.

 

 

References:
Emily Hourican 11/11/19 ‘Why women know nothing about the menopause’ The Irish Independent (available online at https://www.independent.ie/life/health-wellbeing/health-features/women-know-nothing-about-menopause-then-it-hits-them-over-the-head-like-a-ton-of-bricks-38674567.html, accessed 11/11/19)
 
[1] https://inmo.ie/Home/Index/217/13535

“Iconographies for Retirement” – By Pauline Garvey

GeorgianaMurariu31 October 2019

Author: Pauline Garvey

As part of the ASSA project, we are developing mHealth (mobile health) initiatives in order to address the needs of our populations. In our two field sites in Dublin we are engaged in developing social prescribing sites that can be accessed online, on smartphones, and as hard copies for those who are not comfortable with digital media.


Figure 1: One Dublin-based social prescribing site that we are developing.

Social prescribing is based on the recognition that a person’s health is improved by the degree she or he is embedded in social networks and cultural activities (see my blog December 2018). In many cases it involves a GP or counsellor writing a ‘prescription’ for a patient to attend a social activity that will embed a person in their community and enhance their health in mental, emotional and physical ways. In one pilot study, the Irish Health Service Executive described social prescribing as a service that:

“…helps to link you with sources of support and social activities within your community. Social Prescribing is for you if you feel that you need some support to mind your health and wellbeing, you feel isolated, stressed, anxious or depressed, you simply feel you need the service.”

This approach to health has been subject to quite a bit of media attention in Ireland this year and has been subject to several pilot studies nationally and internationally.[i] As part of this rising tide, there is now an annual international conference dedicated to social prescribing which is being developed in diverse countries from UK to the United States, Canada, the Netherlands, Singapore, and Finland.

The question for our team is firstly how can we develop a social prescribing site that enhances the lives of our research respondents? Secondly, how can an anthropological approach make a positive contribution to social prescribing more generally? Our approach is very much coloured by our methodology of anthropological ethnography and participant observation. This means that our insights emerge as the result of immersive participation in our field sites, building on the 16-month ethnographic fieldwork already completed. In developing a social prescribing website, we plan on continuing to work with our research respondents to understand how they use and engage with initiatives such as these.

The first issue emerged early when our informants expressed doubt about the iconography used to denote retirement.

Figure 2: One of the icons that our respondents objected to

For the people we work with, this icon seemed to capture an ageist expectation of what retirement should be rather than their actual experience of it. For example, one of my respondents jogged the 30 km home on the day he retired. Although this man’s level of fitness is not what I would describe as ‘average’, his perspective on remaining active is more in keeping with our respondents than the icon above (see figure 2).

As a result, we set about working with students from computer science in Maynooth University to create something more appropriate. As we work on developing iconography that better encapsulates the experience of our respondents, we realise that this is an ongoing iterative process that we will constantly revise as we launch our websites and work with our respondents in the years to come (see figure 1). Two alternative icons we are currently considering with respondents can be seen below.

 

Figure 3: Alternative retirement icons that we are currently considering with our research respondents.

 

References:

[i] https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/health-family/what-is-social-prescribing-and-how-it-can-benefit-your-health-1.3840354