By Dr Nihara Krause, Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Founder and CEO stem4
On International Women’s day let’s take a moment to reflect on girls and women’s mental health.
New data from NHS Digital released towards the end of last year indicated that young women are the highest risk group in England for mental health problems.
The data suggested that one in five young women reported an emotional disorder such as anxiety and depression as compared with one in eight men. In addition, a higher incidence of self-harm, body dysmorphic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorders were also noted.
These figures are hugely concerning, especially since boys present with more mental ill health issues before the age of 11, with this number being more equal between the sexes until the age of 17. Whilst some of this discrepancy might be due to methods of collecting information and a cultural and social acceptance that makes it easier for girls and women to admit to a mental ill health problem, this explanation is inadequate in understanding why the gap between men and women has widened over the last 15 years with large numbers of girls and women presenting with more than one mental ill health condition requiring assessment and intervention.
So why are more women experiencing negative mental health? The answer is anything but clear cut due to complex underlying factors. Researchers point to the significant rise in domestic violence and abuse towards women, the accentuating role of digital tech and the increase in pornography, as well as increased poverty. Perinatal and postnatal services have been sparsely funded until recently with direct impact on the mental health of women, with increased costs of childcare affecting women’s freedom and flexibility. Whilst men still take their own lives more than women, self-harm in young women has tripled since 1993. There is little data on the growing mental health needs of BAME women, LGBTQ groups and other groups of marginalised and disadvantaged women although some research indicates that these groups have the most financial hardship and struggle to make their cash last until the end of the month. Given the close relationship between economic disadvantage and mental health it is a logical conclusion that austerity has had a particularly negative impact on the wellbeing of women.
There is much to do in terms of supporting the mental health needs of girls and women. Identifying and drawing increased attention to gender needs is the first step, particularly across mental health policy. In addition, the mental health agenda has to be gender sensitive and assessed for gender equality. Services offered must target and offer intervention that improves girls and women’s mental health and be user friendly in terms of access.
However, let’s not forget that men’s mental health needs are equally important – it’s time to acknowledge that it’s not that men don’t experience mental ill health – they just seem to show it differently. So let’s move away from old fashioned models of mental health practice and embrace one that is inclusive and effective.
* if you have been affected by anything in this blog, please look at the resources on the stem4 website. Calm Harm app helps manage the urge to self-harm whilst Clear Fear helps manage symptoms of anxiety, both are free to download. Whilst these apps do not substitute for the assessment and management from a mental health professional they can be useful first steps.