21 May 2019

S5M-17347 Menopause

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-17347, in the name of Christina McKelvie, on ending the stigma of the menopause.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I will say just a quick word to Monica Lennon. I have sat around the boardroom table at the Bank of England on a number of occasions. Of course, I left banking after 30 years to come into politics to improve my reputation.

I will also make a little point about something that Elaine Smith perhaps illustrated, on the topic of the advice that we all sometimes receive about things. The last thing that a woman wishes to do if they have a hot flush or are sweating, or if their temperature has risen, is take a cold drink. The reason for that is that a cold drink will actually boost their system and turn the temperature up, because when the cold drink hits the stomach, it is very close to blood vessels, and the body’s temperature rises. That is why, in the middle east, people drink masala chai, which is warm tea, because putting something warm in the stomach lowers the body temperature—it also reduces the flush. Medical advice often does not cover such very simple things.

Of course, the menopause is not simply a medical or physical issue; it is a social and employment issue. It is also not just an issue for women but an issue for we men. I am glad that—I think—four of us will speak in today’s debate. It is an issue for us perhaps simply because we are there to provide support to those who are close to us and who are affected by the issue. We may also find ourselves employed by, or employing, women who are affected by it. We will also meet, both casually and formally, women who are affected by it.

Elaine Smith very effectively concealed the use of the fan in a previous session, on which I congratulate her. However, she deserves every support.

We will meet premenopausal and perimenopausal women who are worried about how we men might react to menopausal symptoms. We have a duty to be part of an environment in which women feel comfortable about the menopause, because it will happen to all our female friends and relatives and to others we meet.

Men need to learn to deal with their hormone issues, which largely lead us to respond more aggressively to circumstances that we find uncomfortable. We must learn to be much more supportive in our relationships with people we love, people we meet and people we bump into. Neither the male nor the female should be placed in a superior or inferior position to the other; we should simply recognise that differences arise from gender.

Professor Mary Minkin of Yale medical school has done interesting research on the effects of the menopause. She found that Swedish, Danish and Norwegian women were most likely to report that going through the menopause was better than they expected, whereas women in the US, the UK and Canada were most likely to say that their experience was worse than expected. That tells us that the effect relates not simply to a physical and hormonal change but to the information that people have and how society reacts to them.

We have heard references to diet, exercise and attitudes to getting older. As the only septuagenarian to speak in the debate, I would like people to like older people a bit better. In Japan, the old are revered; here, we are more likely to be pitied.

Members have talked a bit about employment. Engender tells us that the Department for Work and Pensions has reported that the largest increases in employment rates recently have been in the 60 to 64 age group and the 55 to 59 age group.

I very much welcome the debate and the opportunity to participate in it. I hope that I leave members a little better informed and a little better prepared to deal with the effects—in men and women—of the menopause.


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