Generation Equality – International Women’s Day 2020

March 9, 2020

‘I want to love glitter and also stand up for the double standards that exist in our society. I want to wear pink and tell you how I feel about politics. And I don’t think that those things have to cancel each other out.’

Most people are aware of the gender gap in mental health. Women tend to be more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety, depression and eating disorders and engage in self-harm. A number of reasons have been touted as the cause of this – school pressures, body image concerns, and social media. Given the culture that still surrounds male mental health, there is also likely an underestimate in men who suffer given they are less likely to seek help. These are all significant pieces of the puzzle, but they don’t give us a whole picture.

The gender gap in mental health appears to be widening. In the 2010s, there was a spike in the prevalence of psychiatric disorders (both treated and untreated) in young women – this figure remained stable for men. Young women have often been shown to out-perform young men academically, and often earn more. They are excelling in education, sport, science and politics. So, what are we missing?

Imposter syndrome is a persistent inability to believe that your success is deserved or has been legitimately earned – and it disproportionately affects women. The negative effects have been shown to bleed from your work life into your home life. Women are expected to juggle societal expectations, their own expectations and the feeling they are failing in both regards. In the UK, young women topped a leader board in 2019 – for fear of failure in school.

Young women are denoted as a ‘high-risk’ group for struggling with mental health. They are also at high-risk for domestic abuse, sexual exploitation, and sexual abuse. Sexual harassment and assaults in schools have risen during the last decade. Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was once a diagnosis reserved for war veterans – now one in seven young women experience it. The facts do not lie in isolation – it is clear that mental health and violence and harassment against women are linked. Of all women who suffer from mental health problems, more than half have been abused. For one in four of those, the abuse began in childhood.

We cannot ignore these figures, and we must acknowledge that gender inequality is a driver of the current crisis in women’s mental health. This is not to say that there is not a crisis for men – they lack support and are often ashamed to speak out. Mental health of both genders is affected by gender inequality. That is why it is so important that we speak about what is happening and take action to help.

The focus of International Women’s Day 2020 is ‘I am Generation Equality – Realising Women’s Rights’. Perhaps the most important thing we can do is acknowledge that women have a right to feel that they are enough, and to feel safe. That women need better mental health services, equipped to deal with their concerns. And that we have come a long way – but there is so much more we can do.

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