Wednesday Bubble: blame it on…

Posted by on Sep 23, 2009 in emotions, estrogen, menopause, women's health | 4 comments


I was struck by the following story that appeared two weeks ago on the BBC:

“Woman’s Death Blamed on Menopause.”

“A woman who refused to take hormone replacement therapy died while suffering a menopausal episode, an inquest had heard. Margaret Drew…was killed when she walked out of her family home on to a nearby railway line and was hit by a train…There is no trigger to this at all, except hormones making her do things that she normally wouldn’t do, Dr. Carlyon [Cornwall Coroner) concluded…”

Menopause. The silent killer. Oh really?  Drew’s husband claims that his wife was “delightful, lovely and friendly” 99% of the time; the other 1% she’d become “totally irrational.” Yet, she refused to try HRT, he says. On the day of her suicide, he said that his wife was “clearly angry about something.”


Obviously, the conclusion is that that the “something” is hormones. This reminds me of vintage advertising copy that conveys the simple message that a pill a day can cure all that ails, wipe away the tears, mood swings and instability so that women can “transition without tears” (or better yet, without killing themselves).

Notably, a search in the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed database turned up only one recent study specifically dealing with suicide ideation across reproductive stages. In it, researchers compared data in 8,794 women, and found an increased risk of thinking about suicide among women during perimenopause, not before or after entering menopause. These findings remained after controlling for risk factors such as anxiety and mood disorders. HOWEVER, the researchers noted that the study design did not allow them to form any definitive conclusions about the specific reasons for thinking about suicide.

Another search yielded information that the risk for a major depression increases during perimenopause, primarily as the direct result of vasomotor symptoms. The same does not hold true for women before menopause begins or once they enter menopause. Note that while major depression is a risk factor for suicide, not everyone who is depressed will actually kill themselves.

So, are hormonal fluctuations the sole cause of such deep unhappiness that women want to kill themselves?

Interestingly, just a week after the menopause/train suicide story hit the interwebz, a rather controversial set of data also emerged: since 1972, women’s overall level of happiness has dropped. These findings held true regardless of child status, marital status and age. Researcher Marcus Buckingham, writing in the Huffington Post, said that women are not more unhappy than men because of gender stereotyping and related attitudes, due to working longer hours or because of the inequality of housework/responsibilities at home, but rather, the hormonal fluctuations of menopause may be to blame. What’s more, he leaves us hanging so we’ll tune in for part two of the piece to learn the true cause of our declining happiness or better yet, read his book (which evidently guides women through the process of finding the true role that they were meant to play in life).

Importantly, reactions to this study (and various pundits’ assessment of it) have been mixed. One of the most poignant comments I’ve read asks the question “how is happiness measured? What does it mean?”

I have no idea what caused Mrs. Drew to walk into a train two weeks ago and kill herself. Perhaps she was depressed. Clearly she was suicidal.

I have no idea why research shows that women are less happier than they were three decades ago.

However, is menopause the cause? Don’t these conclusions only serve to perpetuate societal myths that menopause is a disease that requires treatment? That as women, our attitudes, belief systems and actions are hormonally-based and driven? That we are hysterical beings who need guidance on how to find our way and fulfill our dreams, realize our paths, but only if we calm down?

Feeling angry? Blame it on menopause. Unhappy? Blame it on menopause. Not realizing your dreams? Blame it on menopause. Overworked, overstressed, undervalued? Blame it on menopause.

Blame it on menopause.

I don’t know about you but I’m tired, tired of hearing that menopause is not the symptom but the disease.

There’s no time like the present to burst this bubble.


  1. 9-23-2009

    I had not seen the “menopause killed her” article, but had come across the (un)happiness study and Buckingham’s Huffpo piece on it. In both cases, it seems media/society is trying to tie things up with a big pink bow. The unexplained is so uncomfortable and inexplicable “women’s issues” even more so. And yet – the tragedy in the UK is a human story, not a “women’s issue” story. And, happiness is a human issue – not something to make gender specific (but – I guess the gender specificity will make it a bigger selling book?). Even Maureen Dowd, who tends to be opinionated with her NYT editorials, seemed to have nothing really to say about the happiness study… It is almost surreal to read these stories, with their women focus – and think “what the?” How can such generalizations be made? And, what good does publishing such findings/outcomes do to a society trying to avoid the unnecessary and arbitrary gender-fication of living. It has no connection to the way we – men and women- live our days, and it could hinder the progress we have made on that front.

    • 9-23-2009

      Andrea: you raise some very important points. One phrase that continues to resonate and spin around my head is “pigeonholing” – by attributing what ails to one cause, we fail to recognize the complexity of who were are as humans, which IS larger than gender.

      Perhaps it is time for women to take the lead not only in terms of how menopause is viewed, but more importantly, on changing the “arbitrary gender-fication” of living.

      Thanks. Great comment!

  2. 10-1-2009

    Most, definitely. No matter how “advanced” society claims its thinking is, there are ideas and concepts from the middle ages that still remain. Most particularly “gender-fication”, stereotyping, and reckless jumping to conclusions? How about always finding something to blame? I guess all this is just human nature. But this is putting menopause (or perimenopause), and women, in general, in the wrong light. That we are driven by hormonal fluctuations? Far from the truth.

    I believe perimenopause and menopause are just stages in our lives and not a disease. Just like all of us men and women go through adolescent. Do we have to pop a pill everytime the blues strikes? NO. Happiness is not about popping pills. It’s an individual journey and there are A LOT of factors to consider. We can’t immediately correlate women’s happiness being lower now than three decades ago just because we live different lives now that we’re in modern times and our “hormones” is “worse”. In fact, this is a challenge. This stage *not disease* is a challenge that most of us can overcome, with help and support from friends and family, both men and women.

    • 10-1-2009

      Great comment Pam. I am so glad that you left it. Thank you!

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