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Why a special interest in women’s mental health?

Why a special interest in women’s mental health?

I’m up to my knees in some more post-graduate studies at Deakin University in Melbourne which is all in preparation for a PhD and, in alignment with the central focus of my work in private practice, it’s very much centred on women’s mental health.  I was reminded this weekend, while I was doing some research for my Uni work, around the gender differences in mental health spaces, and thought it might be good to highlight some of them as a bit of an explanation around my I’m so passionate about this space.

Firstly, women’s mental health, like most parts of medicine more broadly has been overlooked as part of the general ‘gender blindness’ that historically considers that a typical patient (for both medication or treatment purposes) is a white, male weighing 80kgs.  (If you want to read a great book on this check out Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez.)  This does women a disservice on biological, hormonal, social, economic, gender role and differing responses to mental health treatments.  There are some mental health disorders that are very specific to women such as those related to life-stage changes (perinatal depression and anxiety (PNDA), premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) or perimenopausal depression).  Then there are other conditions that are exacerbated or made more challenging to manage, as a result of women’s hormone changes – either on a monthly basis or at different points throughout their lives as hormones shift either at menarche (first menstrual cycle), during or after pregnancy or at menopause.














At a global level, women are about twice as likely as men to suffer from mental illness. (1) There are a whole bunch of considerations behind that figure, some of which are related to the longstanding understanding that women are more likely to reach out for help around their mental health.  But there are also a range of economic and biopsychosocial factors behind this headline.  I’d like to share a few quite staggering statistics (all Australian) to add to this:

  • Women report consistently higher levels of psychological distress than men. (2)
  • Women are almost twice as likely to experience mood disorders (i.e., depression and bipolar disorder). (3)
  • Females are more like to experience anxiety disorders. (4)
  • Women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with PTSD. (5)
  • Women are hospitalised for intentional self-harm at almost twice the rate of men. (6)
  • Women are more likely to attempt suicide than men. (7)
  • 95% of hospitalisation for an eating disorder are for women. (8)














Then we have another layer where different groups of women intersect with areas of inequality and discrimination which in turn cause additional, mental health challenges:

  • Young women aged 16 to 24 report the highest rates of mental disorder of any population group (30%) and are presenting to mental health services with self-harm and suicidal behaviours at increasing rates. (9)
  • At least one in five pregnant women/new mothers experiences perinatal anxiety and/or depression, and migrant and refugee women experience higher rates of perinatal depression and anxiety than Australian-born women. (10, 11)
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are hospitalised for self-harm at twice the rate of non-Aboriginal women, and suicide rates among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women aged 15-19 are nearly six times higher than for non-Aboriginal young women. (12, 13)
  • Evidence suggests migrant and refugee women experience poorer mental health outcomes than Australian-born women, with race and gender inequality, violence against women, settlement stress and trauma all playing a role. (14)
  • A higher proportion of women in rural and regional areas have been diagnosed with anxiety or depression than women in metropolitan areas. (15)
  • Women with disabilities experience higher levels of isolation, discrimination and violence than women without disabilities, and are more likely to experience employment, financial and housing insecurity than men with disabilities, all of which are key determinants of mental ill-health. (16)
  • Lesbian and bisexual women, people with intersex characteristics and trans women are almost four times as likely as their cis/heterosexual peers to have tried to self-harm or suicide. (17)
  • Carers – around two-thirds of whom are female – have been shown to have the lowest collective wellbeing score of any group, with more than half of all carers found to have moderate depression as well as experiencing other stressors. (18)
  • Over 60% of single mothers (who make up 80% of single parent households) nominate managing their health or mental health as a key challenge. (19)
  • Women in prison are 1.7 times more likely to have a mental illness than men in prison.
This is all part of why I feel so strongly about dedicated services, or services that have special interests, and importantly training, in working with women.




  1. Yu S. (2018). Uncovering the hidden impacts of inequality on mental health: a global study. Translat Psychiatr. 2018;8: 98.
  2. Australian Institute of Health & Welfare, Suicide & self-harm monitoring [Website], Psychological distress, Available at: URL. Visited 10 February 2021.
  3. Australian Bureau of Statistics (2008). National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing.
  4. Australian Bureau of Statistics (2008). National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing.
  5. Olff M. (2017). Sex and gender differences in post-traumatic stress disorder: an update. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 8(sup4), 1351204.
  6. This includes hospitalisations for self-harm both with and without suicidal intent. Australian Institute of Health & Welfare, Suicide & self-harm monitoring [Website], Deaths by suicide over time, Available at: URL. Visited 10 February 2021.
  7. Australian Institute of Health & Welfare, Suicide & self-harm monitoring [Website], Deaths by suicide over time, Available at: URL. Visited 10 February 2021.
  8. Australian Institute of Health & Welfare (2018). Australia’s health 2018, Chapter 3.13, p 2.
  9. Women’s Health Victoria, Submission on the Victorian Youth Strategy consultation, 2020, p 9.
  10. PANDA [Website], Prevalence of mental illness in the perinatal period, Available at: URL. Visited 10 February 2021.
  11. Shafiei, T. et. al. (2018) Identifying the perinatal mental health needs of immigrant and refugee women. La Trobe University.
  12. Harrison JE and Henley G (2014) Suicide and hospitalised self-harm in Australia: trends and analysis: hospitalised intentional self-harm: 2010-11, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Canberra.
  13. Suicide Prevention Australia (2016), Suicide and Suicidal Behaviour in Women: Issues and Prevention, p 24.
  14. Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health (2020). Policy brief: Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Mental Health.
  15. Calculated by Women’s Health Victoria from the Victorian Population Health Survey 2017 based on the average across local government areas.
  16. Women with Disabilities Australia (2011). Assessing the situation of women with disabilities in Australia – a human rights approach.
  17. Suicide Prevention Australia (2016) Suicide and Suicidal Behaviour in Women: Issues and Prevention, p 23.
  18. Cummins, R et al (2007). Special Report 17.1: The Wellbeing of Australians – Carer Health and Wellbeing, Deakin University, p. vi–vii.
  19. Sebastian A and Ziv I (2019). One in eight: Australian single mothers’ lives revealed. Report of a national survey undertaken in 2018 by the Council of Single Mothers and their Children. Available at: URL.

(Data sourced from


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