The results are in: if you talk to your friends more during menopause, then your menopausal symptoms will bother you less. A study reported in The Telegraph last week suggests that talking either lessens women’s symptoms or helps them cope better (or both). In one study, women undergoing breast cancer treatments who also participated in “talking cure group therapy” as part of a study at Kings’ College in London “coped much better” with menopausal symptoms. Half of the women in this study were asked to participate in workshops with other women for six weeks. Women in the study were encouraged to talk about signs and symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes (or hot “flushes” in the UK) and night sweats; they were taught techniques for eliminating “negative thoughts” and stress as well. Researchers touted this “talking cure group therapy” as giving “people the mental tools to tackle problems more positively” and led to “improvement” in symptoms. The author of the article suggests that non-medical approaches to symptom relief not only work but also could be growing in popularity among women who can’t or don’t want to use prescribed hormone therapies.
This is not unlike what I’ve found in my own studies of menopause and what plenty of other feminist scholars have found about women’s experiences of reproductive health more generally. Women who have support networks and/or who talk to other women about their experiences do indeed feel better about their own experiences and do gain some symptom relief (or, at the very least, coping strategies) just from talking to people. Indeed, even women with severe symptoms can get relief from sharing and talking. SMCR’s very own Jerilynn Prior and Christine Hitchcock have also done studies of how women will rate the severity of their hot flashes differently once they hear other women talk about theirs. Hearing and then knowing that people around you are (a) experiencing the same thing and then (b) might have suggestions for how you could navigate the experience always helps. This isn’t specific to women’s health – anyone experiencing any bodily event, symptom, or process will probably feel better if they talk to others. And of course we could go on from there – anyone experiencing anything confusing or hard or long in duration will probably benefit from talking to others. Anyone who has failed a math test or survived a hard relationship knows that.
The question I have is, isn’t it sad that this is a finding? Shouldn’t we all know that talking to others is better for our health and our sanity? I’m as much of a culprit as anyone else: I don’t talk to anyone anymore. I’m too busy. I barely see my kids or partner, let alone tell people how I feel about menstruation, whether I really feel “done” having kids, whether I think menopause is near, whether I feel reproductively healthy (or healthy in any aspect of my life for that regard), etc. Maybe some of you are much better than me about talking to others, but it’s pretty bad when major research journals have to remind us in their published findings that talking is good for us.
Feminist scholars have already documented the medicalization of women’s reproductive health and the fact that women now typically consult doctors as the “experts” on reproductive health and, by default, no longer trust themselves or other women for advice. Thus, to some extent, talking is stifled by the medicalization of women’s health experiences. But, ironically, now medical journals are reporting that we should talk more? Seems like we’ve made it full circle and women should consult other women as the real “experts” again.
It seems I need to stop being so busy and start cultivating my friendships again . . .