Women’s Mental Health

For this year's International Women's Day, UN Women has partnered with the visual artist Burcu Köleli to develop imagery illustrating the 2022 theme “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow”.

Image Source: Burcu Köleli for UN Women (2022). 

Earlier this week- the 8th March 2022 was International Women’s Day.

This year’s theme, “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow”, is aligned with the main theme for the sixty-sixth session of the Commission on the Status of Women which takes place from 14 to 25 March 2022:

“Achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls in the context of climate change, environmental and disaster risk reduction policies and programmes”.

Advancing gender equality is one of the greatest global challenges of the 21st century- and it will not be possible while there is such inequality in mental health care for women – who are widely considered to be at particularly increased risk of mental health problems, or of not benefitting from recovery equally.

Why is gender such an important issue in relation to mental health?

Women are more likely to experience common mental health disorders than men, and while rates are relatively stable in men, prevalence has been increasing in women, especially in younger women. Young women are an especially high-risk group, with over 26% experiencing a common mental disorder, like anxiety or depression – almost three times more than young men (9.1%).

There are gender-related differences between women’s and men’s experiences of mental illness, mental health services and discussions about mental health. Mental health service design and delivery, frequently fails to take gender into account. This can lead to circumstances where services are inadvertently discriminatory towards women as they have been designed, whether consciously or not; around the needs of men.

Such is the concern that the “Women’s Mental Health Taskforce” was established by UK Government in early 2017, in response to evidence of deteriorating mental health amongst women, and poor outcomes experienced by some women in mental health services. The Taskforce brought together women’s mental health experts to develop proposals to improve the mental health of women, and their experience of mental health services. It was co-chaired by Jackie Doyle-Price, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Mental Health, Inequalities & Suicide Prevention, and Katharine Sacks-Jones, CEO of Agenda, the alliance for women and girls at risk.

The mental health impact of the pandemic has not been the same for everyone, and inequalities in mental health care experienced by women have certainly not improved during the coronavirus pandemic.

A longitudinal study being carried out by the mental health foundation has identified women as one of the high risk population  groups- at increased risk of mental ill health or of not being properly supported to recover from mental ill health.

Studies show that women are more likely to carry a higher proportion of caring responsibilities. They also make up the majority of care and frontline health workers and, are more likely to have pre-existing debt problems and do low paid, unpaid work or insecure work. All of these are risk factors for mental ill health, placing women at greater risk of developing a mental ill health before the pandemic, and at increased risk as all of the ramifications of the pandemic become clear.

The Women’s Mental Health Taskforce have recommended that women, and their unique needs, be explicitly considered in all future mental health policy.

Within the workplace and within our communities we must recognise the importance of considering all women as individuals, with all their characteristics, including their age, race, class, disability, sexuality, gender identity, and / or socioeconomic circumstances. Wider experiences of inequality and discrimination can increase the risk of mental ill health, so there must be an intersectional approach, bearing in mind the possible overlap of different social identities.

Until we do this, we cannot achieve “gender equality, for a sustainable tomorrow”.

This focus of this article has been the impact of mental health inequality on women. That is not to suggest that there are not mental health issues that affect men differently – there are conditions and circumstances that are more prevalent in men, including substance misuse and death by suicide. They are topics to be covered in their own right.

Mental Health in Business.


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