Women’s Mental Health Needs Are Being Neglected At A Time Of Crisis. We Need Gender-specific Policy To Reverse This

This week the Mental Health Foundation published a report showing how young women and girls have slipped down the policy agenda to a point where they are almost invisible. Over this same period, the mental health of young women and girls has reached crisis level.

Women are currently three times as likely as men to have experienced common mental health problems, with young women and girls from disadvantaged groups at greater risks. The rates of self-harm have tripled among young women since 1993 and young women are also three times more likely than men to experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

If we’re ever to reverse these worrying trends, it is crucial that we acknowledge that the root causes of mental ill-health for women are often complex and gender specific. This means that it is not enough to assume women will benefit from policies and initiatives targeted at the general population.

Despite there being an urgent need for the government to get to grips with the specific needs in young women and girls’ mental health, in their recent proposals, these specific needs are folded almost entirely into the broader envelope of ‘Children and Young People’. The proposals make no new financial commitments to specifically support women and girls.

It doesn’t have to be, and hasn’t always been this way. Fifteen years ago, the Government had a comprehensive mental health strategy for women and girls. We need to ask how today, we have arrived in a place where apart from care aimed at new mums and mums-to-be, gender is almost entirely unmentioned.

Young women and girls are navigating a particularly difficult landscape, with the kind of deeply entrenched cultural issues that undermine good mental health at the forefront of society’s consciousness thanks to the recent #MeToo campaign. When it comes to things undermining women’s mental health, the weight of the evidence points to the role of issues like domestic violence and abuse, and the role of the online culture, social media and pornography.

Austerity has also hit women particularly hard, with House of Commons research showing that 86% of the burden for recent cut-backs is falling on women. These things all come together creating a perfect storm for young women and girls.

At a time when young women are facing a crisis in their mental health, there is a desperate need for targeted policy and support. We know how important mental health services can be to enable real recovery and prevent recurrence of ill health.

With this awareness, that the mental health of young women and girls is complex, and the added knowledge that there is no ‘silver bullet’ for improving this, we instead need to reprioritise this area of work to reflect the different issues affecting women and men.

As the Government heads into the New Year, we can only hope to see the recommendations from our new report being made priority.