Researchers, including biomedical and social scientists, have been looking for answers to menopause mysteries for a very long time. Anthropologists have travelled to tribal communities sequestered from the modern world, and other researchers (nurses, doctors, psychologists etc) have designed and conducted studies in their own communities all over the world.
Here is the recurring theme: There is no one experience. Even hot flushes are not the most prevalent symptom reported.
So, if all women are going through the same biological transition, then there must be other factors that influence the experience. Professor of psychology in women’s studies, Joan Chrisler stated that, “although almost every woman around the world shares the same processes of menstruation and menopause, we experience them differently, and those differences are caused, for the most part, by sociocultural effects on our beliefs, attitudes, and behavior”. (1)
Here are some of the factors that have been identified, and in research studies they are referred to as bio-psycho-socio-cultural perspectives. (2)
- A woman’s set of beliefs – does she think that postmenopause will have a positive or a negative outcome. In some cultures, postmenopausal women gain stature, or does a woman believe that this transition will leave her with her best years behind her.
- A woman’s attitude – the more negative the attitude, the more intense the symptoms reported.
- In Western cultures especially, how is menopause socially constructed? Often the experience of the transition is much better than the perception of what it will be like.
- A woman’s level of self-esteem – researchers found a correlation between negative self-esteem and the impact of symptoms, the more negative the self-esteem, the more intense the symptoms.
- A woman’s physical health – you guessed it, the higher the BMI the more prevalent the symptoms.
There is also another fascinating perspective that greatly influences a woman’s experience, especially in Western cultures, and that is the medicalization of menopause. In research literature I’ve seen it referred to as a disorder, as a disease, and as a taboo. Despite the number of studies, we have this situation of very little medical training combined with little to no education, or conversation, to prepare women for the transition. Kind of a “no-woman’s land”.
- Chrisler, J. C. (2013). Teaching taboo topics: Menstruation, menopause, and the psychology of women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 37(1), 128–132. https://doi.org/10.1177/0361684312471326
- Bielawska-Batorowicz, E. (2013). The psychology of the menopause: The experiences during the transition and individual conceptualization of menopause. In M. C. Hollins, R. Watson R., & V. Preedy (Eds.), Nutrition and diet in menopause (pp. 333–345). Springer Nature. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-62703-373-2_25