08 March 2017
For the first time in 50 years, NHS Digital statistics show there has been a significant rise in mental illness in women aged 16 to 24. One in four women in that age bracket (26%) has anxiety, depression, panic, phobia or obsessive compulsive disorder.
The rise in mental illness for young men was comparatively much lower, with young women more than three times likely to have symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder compared to just 3.6% of men in that age group.
Whilst levels of self-harm among 16-24 year old men doubled to 7.9% between 2007 and 2014, one in four women in the same age bracket had self-harmed at some point - a threefold increase to 19.7% since 2007.
Dr Kate Lovett, Dean at the Royal College of Psychiatrists said: “It is clearly worrying that mental illness has risen in young women at a much faster rate than young men.
The reasons for this increase are far from understood. While this is the first age group who have grown up with social media, at the moment we simply don’t have evidence to prove a causal relationship with increased rates of anxiety and depression. Some studies suggest those who spend time on the internet are more likely to be depressed but there is no direct proof that using social media causes this.
There are multiple challenges facing this generation of women and we need high quality research to better understand how these challenges impact on mental health.
Mental health research is underfunded compared to physical health conditions. In the UK we invest less than 6% of the annual health research budget into mental illness, despite it accounting for around 23% of the disease burden.
Women must reject stereotypes of being ‘emotional’ as a gender. If symptoms of anxiety and depression are impacting on your day to day life then it is important to recognise this and seek help. Getting access to modern, effective treatments for these common mental health conditions is important to minimise their duration and impact.
Fostering a culture of openness and support is part of how we can all start to make a difference. Whether you speak to family or friends you can trust, sharing your experiences and how you’re feeling creates conversation about mental health - and conversations start to reduce stigma”.
The rise is so concerning that the Government has created a taskforce chaired by Minister for Public Health Nicola Blackwood to analyse mental illness in young women. The taskforce will look at factors such as social media, employment, exams and economic circumstances and try to understand why mental health issues are rising more in women than men.
This is the first time ever that an enquiry has been set up to look at women’s mental health specifically.