Women experiencing menopause-related symptoms are often being diagnosed as having mental health-related conditions such as anxiety and depression, leading to sub-optimal management of their menopause. This has led to life insurer AIA working with the Australasian Menopause Society to better educate super fund clients, employers and members.
“We observed that women between the ages of 44 and 55 years were twice as likely to have an income protection claim for depression or anxiety than men,” Stephanie Phillips, chief shared value and marketing officer at AIA Australia tells Investment Magazine.
“This was a concerning statistic. However, we also noted that this is the age when women are likely to experience perimenopause or menopause.
“Given these insights, we believed that the opportunity to work with AMS could raise awareness about menopause and its impact on women’s physical and mental wellbeing.”
According to AIA, mental health disorders are a common symptom of menopause, but women are not being assessed for menopause which results in symptoms not being managed optimally.
That’s concerning because two million women in Australia have recently gone through menopause while around 80,000 women move into the postmenopausal stage every year.
In addition, perimenopausal – that is, women transitioning to menopause – and menopausal women make up around 40 per cent of all healthcare visits in Australia.
“Women transitioning into menopause are at risk of mood disturbance. However, the seriousness of mood fluctuation is often underestimated,” says Phillips.
“During this time, women with pre-existing mental illnesses may also experience an exacerbation of their symptoms.”
Worryingly, Australian statistics from 2020 showed that the highest suicide rate for women is in the 45 to 49 age bracket.
“It is also not widely known that after menopause, women are more vulnerable to the development of chronic diseases such as osteoporosis and heart disease,” says Phillips.
She says AIA hopes that its work with AMS will promote awareness of menopause as an essential transitional stage in life and highlight that many women will experience varying symptoms that must be properly diagnosed.
“We believe it is important that we partner with organisations to help us solve the societal health issues that impact our claims experience,” says Phillips.
“Over the years, we’ve developed an entire wellbeing ecosystem of support programs and partnerships which help our members return to work and life by taking a holistic approach to wellbeing.”
By partnering with organisations like the AMS, CancerAid and Pain Revolution, Phillips says AIA ensures that its members have access to targeted programs that address its top three life insurance claimed conditions: cancer, mental ill-health and chronic pain.
“AIA cannot solve societal problems alone,” she says.
“We rely on partnerships like the AMS to help provide education and support to our members and Australians more broadly.
“At AIA, we also believe that early support is crucial to ensuring people receive the right care so that they can manage their symptoms. For people to be able to access early treatment, however, they need to be able to recognise their symptoms and then get an accurate diagnosis. This is why education is so important.”
As part of the partnership, AMS has been educating AIA’s rehabilitation and wellbeing team about menopause and the evidence-based resources available through AMS for members. This includes a search tool to find local doctors who have received education regarding menopause.
Members of the AMS are doctors and other health care professionals who have a special interest in women’s health in midlife and menopause, and the promotion of healthy ageing.
Vicki Doherty, executive director of AMS, says the organisation will also provide education and resources to AIA staff who are affected by menopause, by educating all staff as well as providing training to managers on how to support their staff.
“Targeted fact sheets for women on managing depression and anxiety through the menopausal transition are currently being developed as well as resources for employers on how to support their staff,” says Doherty.
“As there is a lot of misinformation about menopause and treatment options, pointing women to trusted sources of information that are evidence-based is critical and this partnership will help to achieve this.”
Doherty says the AMS website, which provides information and resources for health care professionals and their patients, gets more than 1.5 million hits a year.
One super fund that is getting involved in this project is HESTA, the $70 billion fund dedicated to health and community services.
“Around 80 per cent of our 970,000 members are women so our partnerships with organisations like AIA are key to helping our members get the right health and wellbeing support and enjoy a better retirement,” Debby Blakey, chief executive of HESTA says.
She believes the partnership between HESTA’s insurer AIA and AMS could assist so many of HESTA’s members to get the care and support they need to look after their health and also help the return to work and enjoy a better retirement.
“Getting the diagnosis of medical conditions right is crucial for Australians to receive the right healthcare so I think we will start to see more and more of these kinds of partnerships between health organisations and insurance companies,” says Blakey.
Doherty says AIA is the first insurer AMS has teamed up with. “AMS was looking to partner with the industry to promote our mission to achieve the best possible health and wellbeing for women during and after menopause.”
“Fulfilling this mission includes fostering partnerships to help us raise awareness about menopause, its symptoms, impacts and options for management. By increasing our audience, we will reach more women to raise awareness,” she says.
Doherty says the more women, their families, friends and the community learn about menopause and ways to manage symptoms, the more empowered women will be to seek treatment and thus improve their quality of life.
“In 2020, there were around 1.8 million women aged between 45 to 54 years, most of whom would be peri- or postmenopausal,” she says.
“Of these women, 20 per cent would be suffering from severe symptoms that would greatly impact their quality of life, 60 per cent would have moderate symptoms that would affect their daily functioning and 20 per cent would have no symptoms.”
According to Doherty, the symptoms of menopause include hot flushes, night sweats, joint and muscle pains, depression, anxiety, irritability, sleeplessness, mood changes, unusual tiredness, headaches, low libido, dry vagina, urinary frequency, dry skin, crawling feelings under the skin and brain fog.
“The partnership is new, and we are yet to see the impact in the preventative space,” says Phillips. “However, we have received feedback from our rehabilitation and wellbeing teams that they have found the training helpful in supporting our female members who are of perimenopausal or menopausal age.
“It has also been extremely helpful in supporting our members with breast cancer who experience early menopause as a result of their treatment.”
Phillips says AIA hopes to raise awareness around menopause and to encourage more discussion about it in the community.
“Menopause remains somewhat of a taboo subject which means that women are less likely to recognise the symptoms and to know how to get support,” she says.
“We hope that over time, women in this age group presenting with depression and anxiety symptoms to their GP will be assessed for menopause and consequently provided with appropriate treatment options which may prevent them from leaving the workforce.
“Effective support and the right treatment following a diagnosis of menopause can have a profound effect on the lives and livelihoods of women and allow them to thrive again.”