Onward and upward: exploring women's mental health on International Women's Day
08 March, 2020
To mark International Women's Day, WHMSIG Chairs Dr Beena Rajkumar and Dr Ruth Reed look back at a year of trials and triumphs for women's mental health.
It is a privilege for both of us to collaborate and write this blog celebrating International Women’s Day.
We want to celebrate the achievements of women psychiatrists, who constitute 45% of the College. It gives us a sense of pride to chair WMHSIG when our current President, Wendy Burn, and Dean, Kate Lovett, are both women, and so many women were recognised in the RCPsych Awards.
This is a time to celebrate women psychiatrists, not only in leadership positions or whose successes are formally marked, but also the under-recognised hard work of those on the frontline.
A time of celebration is also a time of reflection, examining where we are, and where we need to be.
A Tough Year in Women's Mental Health
It has certainly been a rollercoaster ride in women’s mental health so far this year.
The trial leading to the conviction of Harvey Weinstein was interesting to follow. The complex dynamics of the abuse of power, usually played out on private stages in the home or workplace, are finally under the spotlight for the public to see. The conviction is a relief, but no victory for those passionate about gender equality. There is much concern that the aggressive lines taken by the defence and resulting distress evident in the witnesses will frighten women away from going to court, despite reassurances about better protections of vulnerable witnesses in the UK.
The rates of conviction for sexual offences in the UK are appallingly low, and reducing further. However much we encourage women to speak up about abuse and violence, many are making an understandable choice not to put themselves through further intense strain with such a minute chance of benefit to themselves or others. A society in which sexual violence is unpunished and normalised sounds like the plot of a dystopian novel, but that is more or less where we find ourselves today.
There have been substantial positive changes in the seriousness with which stalking and domestic abuse are treated by society and the courts, and WMHSIG have contributed on behalf of the College, linking with other organisations to advocate in relation to the proposed Domestic Abuse Bill.
The landmark study by Joht Singh Chandan et al, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, found a link between experiences of abuse and subsequent onset of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder in female survivors without prior mental health problems. Domestic abuse victims in the UK are three times more likely to develop severe mental illnesses. Promoting the screening and recording of domestic abuse needs to be a clear priority for public services, so that more effective interventions for this group of vulnerable women happen.
In mental health services, there continues to be a gender-related difference between women’s and men’s experiences of mental illness and mental health services. The Women’s Mental Health Taskforce found that discussions about mental health, alongside service design and delivery, frequently fail to take gender into account. This can lead to situations where services do not meet the needs of women, especially those with the most complex needs, because they have not been designed for them, or with them.
We need to provide gender-sensitive, trauma-informed care, which will benefit of people of all genders. An important year, and much good news amongst the challenges. Recognition and support for women’s mental health has gone from strength to strength.
Onward and upward!