Women’s mental health is not being taken seriously this is not a recent phenomenon, with the history of women’s mental health painting a disturbing picture.
In 1500-1800, around 200,000 women in Western Europe & the US were executed after being accused of witchcraft and in 1938, when Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) was introduced, it was mostly used on women (67%). And even when “Hysteria” was finally removed from the DSM (diagnostic manual used by psychiatrists) in 1980, BPD was added, with 75% of people diagnosed being women.
And still today, institutional sexism means women are judged by a different value system to men, including being more harshly judged when it comes to the secure psychiatric and criminal justice system. There is not just a gender bias within the system that prevents women from getting the mental health care they need, but women’s different life experiences are also not acknowledged.
Compared to men, women are more likely to experience abuse, live in poverty and work low income jobs. It’s natural that these different life experiences will affect a women’s mental health, and that is indeed the case, with 53% of women who have a mental health problem also having experienced abuse. That’s why it is so important to support gender-specific services being implemented in both the mental health and criminal justice system, as these services take account of gender differences and ensure that support is reflective of women’s complex needs rather than labelling women and boxing them into a service that actually undermines their treatment.
A report from the Human Rights Council last year emphasised how public policies are continuing to neglect the importance of the preconditions of poor mental health, which includes violence and disempowerment. They stressed the need for looking at mental health in a more intersectional way, understanding how different forms of discrimination can prevent someone from getting the mental health care they need. This report stated how women suffered disproportionally, with gender stereotypes and the medicalisation of women’s feelings negatively impacting their mental health care.
Gender-specific services ensure that these gender differences are recognised and that women are given mental health care that supports their needs. In our recent focus group, women told us that they felt that professionals did not take domestic violence seriously, that there are not enough safe women’s only housing options, and social services are needlessly removing children from their mothers every day, taking a pessimistic attitude to mental health conditions. And these are just some of the ways women are currently being let down by the mental health system and, as the system continues to silence them, many of these women’s stories are left unheard.
We want these voices to be at the centre of the mental health system, which is why we launched our latest project, the Women’s Mental Health Network. This Network aims to improve the dialogue between these women and policy makers, and to to improve women’s experience of using statutory services in a range of settings, such as hospitals, prisons, drugs and alcohol, housing, and social services, by influencing them to become more gender-specific.
Ultimately the Women’s Mental Health Network works to turn up the volume on women’s mental health. That’s why we’re inviting you to tell us what is important to you when it comes to mental health and other statutory services, as part of our current consultation (with this consultation period ending on 1st December).
We’re asking you to identify the top three issues within service provision that need to change, and we will then be developing user-led campaigns to improve these issues. This will be done to drive forward the provision of gender-specific statutory services; and then we will take these campaigns forward at a national level.
To fill out the questionnaire, go to The Women's Health Network and help us ensure that the voices of women will finally be heard in the mental health system.
Jennifer Richards is the Communications Officer at women’s mental health charity, Wish. She is also an NCTJ-trained journalist, often writing about her first-hand experience of disability and mental health. This is true both for articles she writes, and for her work as a playwright.