Nicola Bulley’s family says the missing mother-of-two suffered a “crisis” after she stopped taking menopause drugs – as her loved ones revealed details about her struggles before she vanished.
Relatives also asked the public to end the “appalling” levels of speculation and “rumours” about her private life, as they spoke about the “significant” side effects she faced from the perimenopause.
The family said Ms Bulley suffered from brain fog and restless sleep and stopped taking hormone replacement drugs (HRT), commonly used to treat symptoms of the menopause, as it gave her “intense headaches”.
In a statement, they said: “Due to the perimenopause Nikki suffered with significant side effects such as brain fog, restless sleep and was taking HRT to help but this was giving her intense headaches which caused Nikki to stop taking the HRT thinking that may have helped her but only ended up causing this crisis.”
Lancashire Police have referred themselves to police watchdog the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), regarding contact the force had with Ms Bulley prior to her disappearance.
Amid ongoing questions surrounding the force’s handling of the case, a source close to the home secretary said Suella Braverman “was concerned” by the disclosure of Ms Bulley’s personal information by the police and “asked the force for an explanation”.
It comes a day after the force revealed that Ms Bulley had suffered with some “significant issues with alcohol” in the past, brought on by her “ongoing struggles with the menopause”.
The 45-year-old has been missing since 27 January after vanishing when she took her dog for a walk by the River Wyre in Lancashire.
WHAT IMPACT CAN MENOPAUSE HAVE?
Menopause is when your periods stop due to lower hormone levels and usually happens between the ages of 45 and 55.
Perimenopause is when you have symptoms before your periods have stopped, according to the NHS.
Perimenopause can last for up to 10 years before your periods stop altogether and most commonly occurs in women in their 40s.
The NHS says menopause and perimenopause symptoms can have a big impact on a person’s life, including their relationships and work.
Common symptoms include: anxiety, mood swings, brain fog, hot flashes, difficulty sleeping and headaches and migraines, among others.
Whilst not all women will experience menopausal symptoms, up to 80-90% will have some symptoms, with 25% describing them as severe and debilitating, according to the British Menopause Society.
Symptoms of menopause can be so debilitating that a survey published last year found that one in 10 women have quit their job because of it.
HRT is a method of managing symptoms of perimenopause and menopause and is taken by millions of women worldwide, however it does not work well for everybody.
It involves taking oestrogen to elevate the body’s levels of the hormone and is often combined with progesterone.
Ms Bulley’s family also said the public focus “must be on finding her” and not “making up wild theories about her personal life”.
The statement continued: “We, as a family, believe that the public focus has become distracted from finding Nikki, and more about speculation and rumours into her and Paul’s private life.
“As a family, we were aware beforehand that Lancashire Police, last night, released a statement with some personal details about our Nikki.
“Although we know that Nikki would not have wanted this, there are people out there speculating and threatening to sell stories about her. This is appalling and needs to stop.
“The public focus has to be on finding her and not making up wild theories about her personal life.”
Police under fire for sharing personal details
A spokesperson for the Home Office said Ms Braverman and the policing minister are receiving “regular updates” from Lancashire Police on its handling of the case, “including why personal details about Nicola was briefed out at this stage of the investigation.”
While a source close to Ms Braverman said: “The Home Secretary was concerned by the disclosure of Nicola Bulley’s personal information by Lancashire Police and asked the force for an explanation, which was received yesterday evening”.
The IOPC said in a statement that it received a referral from Lancashire Police this afternoon regarding contact the force had with Ms Bulley on 10 January, prior to her disappearance.
It added: “We are assessing the available information to determine whether an investigation into that contact may be required and if so, who should conduct that investigation.”
The Lancashire force had initially refused to elaborate on “vulnerabilities” which made Ms Bulley a high risk missing person but later released a statement about her medical and mental health issues.
Lancashire Police has come under criticism for revealing Ms Bulley’s struggles with alcohol.
But the family statement, published through the force, made clear the police “know the truth about Nikki”.
The family added: “Despite what some media outlets and individuals are suggesting, we are being updated daily and receive support from our family liaison officers.”
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The defence of local officers follows widespread condemnation of the way Ms Bulley’s personal information was handled.
Two MPs criticised the apparent “victim shaming” of Lancashire Police’s disclosures this week.
And Martyn Underhill, a former detective who was involved in the Sarah Payne case in 2000, told Sky News that the force have “completely destroyed” Ms Bulley’s reputation adding that he was “confused” by the force’s strategy.
The dive specialist who has been helping police in the hunt for Ms Bulley also told Sky News that knowing the missing mum was “high risk” would have “changed our whole search”.
Lancashire Police criticised online sleuths spreading false information about Ms Bulley’s disappearance and said rumours are “distracting” officers from investigating the case.
‘Toxic’ public interest may be ‘dangerous’ yet ‘crucial’ in case
‘Your girls want a cuddle’
The family’s plea for speculation to stop also included a direct message to Ms Bulley.
It said: “Nikki is such a wonderful daughter, sister, partner and mother and is missed dearly – we all need you back in our lives.
“Nikki, we hope you are reading this and know that we love you so much and your girls want a cuddle.
“We all need you home. You can reach out to us, or you can contact MissingPeople.org.uk.
“Don’t be scared, we all love you so very much.”
Ms Bulley was last seen at 9.10am on 27 January taking her usual route with her springer spaniel Willow, alongside the River Wyre.
Her phone, still connected to a work call for her job as a mortgage adviser, was found just over 20 minutes later on a bench overlooking the riverbank, with her dog running loose.