AS we come to the end of Menopause Awareness Month the message is loud and clear – we need to remove the barriers women face. Whether it is more support at home and in the workplace, or education to raise awareness, women deserve more help.

One of the biggest barriers is the social stigma of this natural and normal part of a woman’s life.

So many women suffer in silence, not knowing what help and advice is available to them.

The menopause is often portrayed as something that we shouldn’t talk about, with many I know fearing discrimination or humiliation if they do. This needs to stop.

I led the first parliamentary debate anywhere in these islands on the menopause in May this year.

READ MORE: Why we're now talking menopause – and how we can support women

It was a historic day in Holyrood and we are proud that we are able to address the stigma around the subject in Parliament.

I’m grateful to my fellow female politicians from all parties for sharing their own experiences and for supporting my efforts in raising awareness of the menopause.

In the Scottish Government’s Programme for Government this year, we will deliver a Women’s Health Plan to tackle the many health inequalities some women face.

In a recent survey, more than two thirds of women felt that there wasn’t enough information about the menopause when their symptoms started.

We are working to do more to raise awareness of the effects of the menopause and what treatment options are available. This includes improving education and knowledge among health practitioners.

This issue is far from restricted to health. The menopause is not an illness, the same way menstruation and pregnancy are not, but their symptoms can cause women pain, discomfort and anxiety.

We need to recognise this and offer help and support and, where appropriate, treatment.

Most women go through the menopause between the ages of 48 and 55, and symptoms can last for more than 10 years. We know that the average age of menopause is 51, but it can happen much earlier.

Women are working longer and we have seen a 5.5% increase in the employment rates of women aged 50-64 in Scotland since 2008. With this in mind, employers could do more to acknowledge and support their female employees, and I’ve called on all employers to consider developing and adapting work policies to support women going through the menopause who may need some support at this particular time in their life.

We will continue our focus on fair work and identify positive ways in which businesses can improve their workplace practices.

For example, to be more open to flexible working, or to think about holding a menopause cafe. This is a place where people can come together to talk openly about their experiences. It has been great to hear that more menopause cafes have been taking place across the country.

We held sessions in the Scottish Government and they are an open and supportive space for women to talk candidly without fear of discrimination.

The only way to increase awareness of the menopause is to talk about it. No longer should women shy away and “grin and bear” their symptoms when support and treatment is available.

The menopause needs more recognition. I am determined that this normal part of every woman’s life should be treated in the same way – as normal.