Skip to main content

The Women’s Mental Health Taskforce

Final report

The work of the Women’s Mental Health Taskforce

The Women’s Mental Health Taskforce was set up in response to evidence of deteriorating mental health amongst women and poor outcomes experienced by some women in mental health services.

Women are more likely to experience common mental health conditions than men, and while rates remain relatively stable in men, prevalence is increasing in women (McManus et al, 2016). Young women are a particularly high-risk group, with over a quarter (26%) experiencing a common mental disorder, such as anxiety or depression – almost three times more than young men (9.1%).

The Taskforce was established to set out priorities for improving women’s mental health and their experiences of services. The work of the Taskforce was informed by the voices and experiences of women.

Context and core themes in women’s mental health

There can be gender-related differences between women’s and men’s experiences of mental illness and mental health services. Yet the Taskforce found that discussions about mental health, alongside service design and delivery, frequently fails to take gender into account. This can lead to situations where services can be inadvertently discriminatory towards women because they have been designed, whether consciously or unconsciously, around the needs of men.

Women described challenges in their experiences of mental health services, including problems building trusting relationships with staff, and a profound lack of voice or control. Those who had been in inpatient settings described a lack of ongoing support or aftercare, and a feeling of being “left to get on with it” when they left hospital.

The Taskforce heard that women’s roles as mothers and carers was rarely considered in the support they received, with little provision to help them maintain relationships with their children and wider family. Women are sometimes reluctant to seek support in the first place for fear of having their children removed from their care, and for those who no longer had their children with them, the impact this had had on their mental health was frequently overlooked.

Despite the clear relationship between gender based violence and trauma and poor mental health, the Taskforce heard that this link is rarely reflected in the support available to women with mental health problems – with trauma informed services rare. Taskforce members heard from women that contact with mental health services could even at times be re-traumatising, for example through restraint or observations, often by male staff members. Some women spoke of feeling unsafe in inpatient services, and at risk of sexual assault or harassment from both members of staff and patients, and where incidents occurred they felt that these were not always well responded to.

Women with multiple needs, many of whom have faced extensive violence, abuse, poverty and inequality, are often deeply traumatised and can face other challenges alongside poor mental health, such as addiction and homelessness. Yet the Taskforce heard that services are not always well set up to meet women’s needs or be flexible to respond to where women are in their lives.

Eating disorders, self-harm and suicide can also affect women and men differently. Eating disorders are more common among women and girls than men and boys, and young women and girls are more at risk of self-harm. And while young men are still more likely to take their own lives than young women, the rates for young women (those aged 20-24) have increased rapidly and are currently the highest on record (Office for National Statistics, 2018).