An initiative to encourage women to talk about the impact of the menopause has been launched in Belfast.

Two nurses who organised the event said they did so because not enough information and support is available to help people cope with what can be a serious health issue.

Coffee, cake and chat were on the menu in the First Avenue Coffee Company on the Ormeau Road in south Belfast.

Women of various ages and backgrounds came together to talk about how the menopause impacts their lives.

"We're all women here tonight, we all have very many different experiences, similarities yes as well, but without doubt we learn from each other," said Fionnuala, one of the participants.

The cafés are not standalone outlets but can be held anywhere

"It’s a health issue that all women will experience at some stage in their life so I think it’s really important to be in an environment where everybody can share that experience and learn from each other," said another participant, Susan.

"And actually then go home and peer educate the other people they live with at home about the issue."

Menopause Cafés were launched in Perth in Scotland by Rachel Weiss four years ago, to encourage conversations about the issue.

Friends Liz Wenden-Kerr and Anne McGale, both nurses at the Holywood Arches Health Centre in east Belfast, decided there was a need for a similar forum in the city.

Both worked with women who suffered serious health problems while experiencing the menopause.

Anne suffered badly herself.

"Every single woman will go through the menopause and there is a lack of information and education about it, and it can be so debilitating"

"As a practice nurse for 38 years I was always telling people what to expect, and I sort of thought I knew and that I was going to manage it no problem," she explained.

"But when it hit me at age 51, I suffered from severe anxiety and I ended up having to take time out of work. I lost two-and-a-half stone in weight, never mind the other symptoms like the flushes and the sweats and the palpitations.

"After going through what I did I decided that I didn't want any other women to go through it feeling alone.

"I think it’s very important that women are aware of it. We prepare women for pregnancy, we prepare young girls for puberty, so I think it’s just another thing that we need to highlight."

Anne works with a number of employers and said they are becoming more aware of the issue and more understanding, but more needs to be done to raise awareness.

Liz Wenden-Kerr said demand for the first event in south Belfast on Thursday night far exceeded expectations, with all available places snapped up quickly.

Anne McGale and Liz Wenden Kerr

"That showed us that there is a need for this kind of service, that women have an appetite for it," she said.

"Every single woman will go through the menopause and there is a lack of information and education about it, and it can be so debilitating, with physical, psychological and emotional symptoms.

"The idea of the cafés is to get women talking, understanding each other and realising that they are not alone."

The cafés are not standalone outlets but can be held anywhere, in existing coffee shops or a person’s home.

Anne and Liz plan to hold others on a regular basis and will go where there is demand.

They also keen to encourage men to join the conversations. So too are those who took part in the event.

"Men go through it too because if there’s a woman in the family going through it the whole family are affected, if there’s a woman in the relationship both parties in the relationship are affected," said Alison, another participant.

"I think it’s something everybody can actually do with knowing a bit more about."