“Not as bad as you think”: women who’ve gone through the menopause have a more positive take than those who haven’t

GettyImages-495802268.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

Discussion of the menopause tends be negative. Take the video introduction to “menopause week” held this week on BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio Sheffield. The well-meaning presenters talk of “distress”, the impact, the “troubling” changes, and “how to get through it”. Of course the aim is to support and educate, and it’s important to acknowledge the seriousness of some women’s problems. However, there’s arguably a risk that an overly negative tone perpetuates beliefs and stereotypes that may foster unjustified dread about the menopause.

In fact, according to a recent study in the Journal of PsychoSomatic Obstetrics and Gynecology, involving nearly 400 women aged between 40 and 60, overall women have a positive view of the menopause. What’s more, women who’ve gone through the menopause have a more positive take on it than those who’ve yet to start or who are in the middle of it. “In other words,” write Lydia Brown at the University of Melbourne and her colleagues, “for most women the menopausal transition may turn out to be not as bad as they think”.

The researchers asked their participants to complete the Menopausal Representations Questionnaire that includes questions about symptoms they attribute to the menopause, their thoughts and beliefs about the consequences of the menopause, the menopause timeline, and their perceptions of control. The researchers also devised a new scale addressing the participants’ emotions in relation to the menopause.

For example, participants said whether they felt (or expected to feel) anxious or less confident; whether they thought the menopause would last a long time; whether they were anxious about it; whether they were, or would be, pleased to be free of the risk of pregnancy.

The women’s responses were positive overall. On average they disagreed that the menopause made them feel upset, angry or afraid, although they agreed it made them feel somewhat anxious and slightly more depressed. The women agreed most strongly with statements about what may be considered advantages to going through the menopause, such as the end of periods and the end of using birth control.

Screenshot 2018-01-17 11.07.11
From Brown et al, 2017

Among the sample, 54 of the women were premenopausal, 48 were in the early or later stages of the menopause, and 286 had finished going through the menopause. The postmenopausal women were more positive about the menopause than the women currently going through it, although this difference was modest. In terms of their emotions, the postmenopausal women were more positive about the menopause than the premenopausal women and those currently in the menopause, and the magnitude of this difference was “clinically significant”.


The researchers speculated that perhaps the more negative views and emotions of the premenopausal and early menopausal women is related to “affective forecasting theory”, which describes how we tend to overestimate the impact of future events on our emotions, and underestimate our ability to adapt and cope. Alternatively, perhaps the findings are explained by a more general trend for people to become more optimistic as they get older. Alternatively, or as well, maybe the postmenopausal women had developed more effective coping strategies over time.

Whatever the explanation, and while acknowledging that their study was limited by its cross-sectional design (it would be better to study the same women before, during and after the menopause), the researchers said their findings suggest that the more negative views held by premenopausal women may reflect a “degree of stereotype internalisation”. It may be “that the ‘dread’ of the upcoming menopause is culturally influenced”, they said, adding: “Our data show that cognitive and emotional representations of the menopause are most positive in the post menopause, when women have had the lived experience of the menopause”.

It’s not as bad as you think: menopausal representations are more positive in postmenopausal women

Christian Jarrett (@Psych_Writer) is Editor of BPS Research Digest

7 thoughts on ““Not as bad as you think”: women who’ve gone through the menopause have a more positive take than those who haven’t”

  1. As a woman coming to the end of menopause I would agree with this. However, I am aware that my own hindsight bias and the peak- end rule of memory help to diminish the worst bits of the last decade – as were my traumatic memories of childbirth. The sense of relief that it is over and the freedom from the monthly tyranny colours the memories in an unrealistic pinkish light.

  2. My menopause experience was slightly different than some others. I had a tubal ligation in my 40s, so the spectre of pregnancy and the subsequent safety from it after menopause was not a factor for me. Furthermore I had a fairly good role model, as my mother’s experience was largely limited to mild hot flashes–at least that’s all I heard about. I can certainly remember moments of disorientation and what I interpreted as hormonal pressures on my emotional state, but having had similar effects from pre-menstrual hormone fluctuations, I found these mostly very easy to manage, or ignore. And I will say, for me nothing in the process offsets the rewarding feelings of release and resolution that menopause has brought. Not having to worry about bleeding is a part of that, but not as big a part as I expected. More important is the regular awareness that I am no longer prey to the more or less constant burden of uncertainty and emotional lability that goes with the hormonal fluctuations. I feel more in control of myself and my world than I ever did in the first 50 years. I rely on that emotional stability all the time to help me manage events that in earlier years would be highly stressful or even overwhelming. Looking forward to many more years of this.

  3. My menopause started early at 44 and I had a 4 yr old. It went on for about 8 years which my doctor claimed was because I was thin. According to her, thin women have lower body fat and body fat contains estrogen which helps menopause symptoms. As the estrogen is leaving the body, having it stored in the fat cells is a benefit. I know people who barely noticed they were in menopause but I had a terrible time with symptoms during and after.

    Women who take hormone replacement have a different experience than those who don’t. Looking back, I should have tried HRT. I went cold turkey and it was a long uncomfortable 8 years. I didn’t have prior knowledge about menopause so, I was not tainted by anyone’s opinion of it but I was surprised it was so uncomfortable and disrupted my life on many occasions. There was very little you could do about the hot flashes, mood swings, etc. naturally and I tried everything but nothing really worked.

    Today, women have bio-identical hormones to help them go through menopause and there seems to be more camaraderie among women towards menopause now then in my day. Menopause wasn’t something my women friends wanted to discuss.

  4. Total rubbish – I wrote a long response which hadn’t been published and frankly cannot be bothered to rewrite it. But I will say this, stop lumping people together to form a norm, we are all individuals with our own experience which should not be discounted because someone else doesn’t share that experience.

  5. “Not as bad as you think”? No, it’s been far worse. My mind and body are falling apart. No one told me that at the age of just 49, that I would suddenly go overnight from being fit and healthy to utterly physically and mentally exhausted, depressed, having painful joints, brain fog, total loss of libido and weight gain. It’s driven me to the brink of suicide. No-one warned me that my body and mind would be utterly trashed at 49 by life’s natural transition.

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