Anyone can struggle with their mental health, but research shows that self identifying women and girls are particularly vulnerable.
Mental health conditions affect both men and women, but not equally. Around one in five women have a common mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety, compared to one in eight men (1). With women’s health equality under scrutiny in the UK, and growing calls for more support, we asked: What is driving the issues affecting women’s mental health? What are the key challenges for women and what support do they need?
All women can experience mental health problems, but research shows that young women and girls are most vulnerable. Women between the ages of 16 and 24 are almost three times as likely to experience a common mental health issue as males of the same age (2).
These stats become even more important when you consider that one-third of mental health problems in adults are directly connected to an adverse childhood experience (3). Plus, adults who experienced four or more adversities in childhood are four times more likely to have low levels of mental wellbeing and life satisfaction (4).
What is driving inequality in women’s mental health?
Social and economic factors are key, with women often being more financially dependent than men. Where you live is also a factor. Not only do healthcare provisions vary by region, but they vary widely. In a study the UK was found to have the largest female health gap in the G20 and the 12th largest globally (5).
Mental ill-health has a strong association with domestic violence, and there has been an increase in levels of domestic violence over recent years (6).
Women are more likely than men to be carers, which can lead to stress, anxiety and feelings of social isolation.
Women often work in the home, which can lead to them feeling lonely.
Women tend to feel more unhappy with their bodies than men. 90% of teenage girls say they are unhappy with their bodies. Large numbers of girls say that they hold themselves back from doing things they’d like to do for fear of their bodies being criticised (7).
Women experience more life-changing events than men. These can include having children and going through the menopause.
Women may also be hiding their mental health struggles, writing them off as normal, or keeping them secret for fear of judgement. Analysis of 15,000 secondary pupils by Steer Education found that thousands of girls as young as 11 are hiding signs of deep distress from their parents and teachers (8).
The statistics paint a bleak picture, but it’s not all bad news.
Improving the support for women’s mental health
Research shows that women tend to be more open to asking for and accepting help. Their stronger social ties give them a support network to lean on when needed.
So, what needs to happen to improve the mental health of girls and women? The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) ‘Better for Women’ report (9), identified that:
- Women cannot always find accurate information.
- The NHS remains largely an intervention service, not a prevention service, and chances are often missed to empower girls and women.
- Many women’s healthcare services are fragmented and hard to access.
These key points provide an opportunity for health and social care, and also for businesses and brands to step in.
The role of business, brands and digital support in mental health
Businesses must make workplace wellbeing a priority. They can do this by re-evaluating workplace expectations, providing mental health support and training, and supporting staff in managing their symptoms. This takes time, innovation, and long-term commitment, but many organisations who have invested in workplace mental health are already seeing the benefits – including a drop in days lost to sickness ¬– and higher staff retention rates.
Brands too can help fill information gaps by providing reliable, trustworthy and accessible health information to women through channels such as social media and email.
Digital mental health programmes also have an important role to play, both in healthcare and work settings. Considering the factors driving women’s worsening mental health, for example, working from home and fear of judgement, online solutions can provide vital support. SilverCloud® by Amwell® digital mental health programmes are confidential and can be accessed 24/7 from home. In addition, the ability to add a supporter to some programmes, provides a vital human link.
In their report, The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) states clearly that “healthy women are the cornerstone of healthy societies”. Early and effective mental health support has never been more vital to creating a positive, healthy and empowered future for women.
SilverCloud® has helped more than 1 million users to think and feel better with interactive tools based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Digital therapy enables healthcare providers and businesses to offer programmes that aid the prevention of mental health problems, as well as interventions to tackle existing issues, and support people through their recovery.
The SilverCloud digital platform is available for free in the UK & Ireland via a referral from a GP, therapist or select health insurers, employers and universities.
If you are a health service provider, health plan or university looking to support your patients, members or students please contact a SilverCloud representative to request a free demo.
1. Men and women: statistics | Mental Health Foundation
2. McManus S, Bebbington P, Jenkins R, Brugha T. Mental health and wellbeing in England: Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey 2014 [Internet]. Leeds; 2016. Available from: content.digital.nhs.uk
3. Kessler, R. (2010) ‘Childhood adversities and adult psychopathology in the WHO World Mental Health Surveys’ British Journal of Psychiatry 197(5): 378–385.
4. Mehta, D. et al. (2013) ‘Childhood maltreatment is associated with distinct genomic and epigenetic profiles in posttraumatic stress disorder’ Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110(20): 8302–8307. Available at: http://www.pnas.org/content/110/20/8302.full.pdf
5. Women’s health outcomes: Is there a gender gap? - House of Lords Library (parliament.uk)
6. Domestic abuse prevalence and trends, England, and Wales - Office for National Statistics (ons.gov.uk)
7. Men and women: statistics | Mental Health Foundation
8. Thousands of girls as young as 11 in England hiding signs of ‘deep distress’ | Mental health | The Guardian
9. Better for Women | RCOG