Interview with Kathryn Colas, founder of SimplyHormones

Image titleKathryn Colas is a hugely respected voice for women going through the menopause.

The founder and chief executive of the women’s advice and support service Simply Hormones, she has become a sought-after media commentator and public speaker, recognised for her work with NGOs, public and private sector organisations in improving understanding of menopausal symptoms; empowering women with better information while influencing policy and practices in the workplace.

Kathryn became the first and only lay person to be appointed to the medical advisory committee of the British Menopause Society.

In 2015, the Government’s official Business Champion for older workers Ros Altmann observed in her report ‘A New Vision for Older Workers’ that “currently, there is no training for line managers to deal with this issue [of the menopause]”. Kathryn responded by developing the first and so far only work-based programme for key personnel and delivered by qualified professionals.

Kathryn’s media appearances include the BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour, BBCBreakfast tv and numerous national newspapers and magazines.

1. Kathryn, can you tell us a bit about yourself and why you started SimplyHormones?

I started SimplyHormones as a website to help women understand menopause better because I had gone through ten years of hell and didn’t want other women to suffer as I had. If only I knew then what I know now! I had resigned from my executive job because I ‘couldn’t cope’ (a very common phrase) and was then diagnosed with ‘depression’. I had no idea I was going through menopause, I just knew things weren’t right and didn’t know if it was me or others. I also had no idea that there are two kinds of depression: hormonal (relating to PMS, childbirth and, yes, menopause) as well as the more well known mental health version.

2. Menopause is a club that nobody seems to want to belong to, what does SimplyHormones do to help raise awareness and stop the menopause being a taboo subject?

SimplyHormones has a library of information that can be made available to women and employers. This comes in the form of pdf downloads and audio/visual programmes, as well as live workshops for everyone. These events can be gender exclusive as we find men and women contribute more to discussions when in their own company – because of the subject matter.

3. Can you explain what the perimenopause is and how it differs from the menopause

It always surprises people to learn that hormones start to decline around the age of 35 (the start of perimenopause) but women don’t really notice any changes until, say, 45, when PMS symptoms may increase – ‘PMS on Speed’, I call it.

Menopause is a bit of a misnomer because it relates to being twelve months without a period. The average age for menopause is 52. This is followed by post-menopause. Symptoms may recede at this time or, for some women who feel they have gone through perimenopause without any problems, the symptoms can then begin post-menopause, while for others, some symptoms continue.

4. How long can perimenopausal symptoms last?

Symptoms can last anything from two to 20 years. It’s best not to think about it in that way as it can be quite depressing. It’s best to think about how to improve your overall health and therefore quality of life to keep the debilitating symptoms at bay.

5. Is there an average age for a woman to go through the menopause and has that changed at all over the past century?

The average age is 52. In the past 100 years, women were dying younger and menopause would complete its cycle between the age of 48 to 50. At the turn of the 20th century, women were still being institutionalised in mental asylums and certified as ‘mad’ during perimenopause – well into the 1960s.

6. How does SimplyHormones help take the fear out of the menopause?

Many women say they are frightened by what’s happening to them at menopause. This also happened to me. It’s a fear of the unknown, especially if you feel you are going mad.

Once I embarked on my research about all aspects of menopause, psychological and physiological, I started to join up the dots and realised that the decline of oestrogen (one of the three sex hormones: oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone) at menopause was the beginning of so many degenerative diseases including heart health, diabetes, osteoporosis and even Alzheimer’s.

Our format is to talk to people as people, discussing the issues women face as they journey through menopause, in both their personal and professional lives, their choices to help restore ‘normality’ and also bringing men into the equation as it is very important they understand more.

Our format is working well for both men and women. Women find huge relief in realising they are not going mad and men feel in a stronger position to provide support.

7. Do you have any top tips on how to tackle embarrassing or difficult topics in the work place?

There are three main points that help everyone:

Everyone will be surprised by the long list of symptoms. That’s a starting point. Next, our Menopause Traffic Lights help everyone identify age groups and how to approach the situation at work – it’s a generic view and not written in stone.

Decide what other action you need to take to not only ‘future-proof’ the workplace but also to give guidance to other females within your own network and to the wider audience at work.

8. How can men or other family members best support their partners during this period of change?

At SimplyHormones we believe it is very important to include men. In our experience, they want to be better informed and we have created a Men’s page on our website: 

9. Do men go through a similar kind of transitional phase in their life?

I am aware that men can go through a hormonal transitional phase (linked to declining testosterone levels) but I believe this usually happens a little later in life than for women. The male hormonal cycle takes place every 24 hours (with testosterone levels higher in the morning), whereas the reproductive cycle that women experience over a 40 year period is monthly, and hormonal changes are experienced throughout the month, every month. I think we can all agree that women have significant and different needs.