Key statistics about women and mental health
This fact-sheet contains information, facts and figures from a variety of health resources, which we hope will further your understanding of how various aspects of a woman's life can impact mental health.
On this page
- Prevalence of key mental health problems among women
- Social and economic Factors
- The criminal justice system
Prevalence of key mental health problems among women
According to figures from the 2000 National Survey of Psychiatric Morbidity in the UK, the prevalence of neurotic disorders is slightly higher among females, affecting 19 per cent of women aged 16 to 74 compared to 14 per cent of men1.
In addition, the highest prevalence rates for any neurotic disorder were found in women aged between 50 and 54, of whom 25 per cent were assessed as having at least one type.
With the exception of panic disorder, all forms of neurotic disorder were found to be more common among women than in men1. Mixed anxiety with depression was found to be the most prevalent form of mental disorder, affecting 7 per cent of men and 11 per cent of women. The next most prevalent form was anxiety, affecting 4 per cent of men and 5 per cent of women, closely followed by depression, which effected 2 per cent of men and 3 per cent of women.
The drinking habits of 32 per cent of women aged between 16 and 19 were classified as 'hazardous' by the Office for National Statistics in the year 20001. The same statistics show that hazardous drinking peaked in men at around a similar age, effecting 62 per cent of 20 to 24 year olds. The study also found that alcohol problems declined significantly with age.
Similarly to that of alcohol misuse, the highest prevalence rates of drug dependence were found in individuals between the ages of 20 and 24, of whom nine per cent of women and twenty per cent of men men were considered to be drug dependent.
Statistics and studies have estimated that as many as one in every 20 women will experience some form of eating distress during her lifetime, with the majority of sufferers aged between 14 and 25 when they do so2. There are various forms of eating disorders and below you can find details of the three that most commonly occur in women:
Estimates on the prevalence of anorexia nervosa tend to vary from study to study, though the NHS puts this figure at around 1 in 250, with symptoms most commonly developing in women aged between 16 and 173.
Though this condition does occur in men it is far more common among women and girls, and despite the common misconception that the illness stems from wanting to look good, it is usually caused by an underlying emotional issue and the need to gain an element of control. Often a sufferer will have an extremely distorted body image and an overwhelming fear of gaining weight.
Bulimia nervosa is five times more common than anorexia nervosa with females making up 90 per cent of overall sufferers. The condition usually develops around the age of 18 or 19 and is characterised by sufferers alternating between binge eating and self induced purging (vomiting or use of laxatives and diuretics)3. Much like anorexia, this condition is usually an indicator of a serious underlying emotional issue and more often than not a sufferer will go to great lengths to keep their illness hidden from others.
Binge eating affects an equal number of males and females and in contrast to both anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa it usually appears later in life, between the ages of 30 and 403. Due to the technicalities of defining binge eating, few figures exist which estimate its prevalence. The condition itself usually see's a sufferer eat extreme quantities of food when not hungry, after which they may feel embarrassed, ashamed and out of control. If the condition persists it can lead to significant weight gain, which in turn may trigger addition physical and mental conditions.
Figures from a study conducted by the Royal College of Psychiatrists in 1992 suggest that at any one time, an estimated 60,000 individuals may be being treated for bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa in the UK4.
In terms of the male to female ratio, men are ten times less likely to develop anorexia than women, and bulimia is also rarely reported. However, various health experts and professionals feel this figure may not reflect the true picture of male eating disorders as the stigma of mental health issues means that many men feel it would be a weakness to acknowledge an eating disorder and seek help.
Reproductive and hormonal changes within a woman’s body can contribute to certain mental health issues. Reproductive functions, menstruation, menopause, pregnancy and childbirth all put the body through some difficult changes which at the time may trigger feelings of depression and anxiety right through to irritation.
Postnatal depression is a condition which occurs in parents at any point from two weeks to two years after birth. Otherwise known as the baby blues, postnatal depression characteristically see's the sufferer develop various symptoms of depression and an indifference to their child which often renders them unable to cope with the demands of caring for their offspring.
Though cases of postnatal depression in fathers are becoming increasingly common the condition is far more prevalent among women, with various studies suggesting that it will affect between 10 and 15 per cent or one in seven to ten mothers5. Symptoms are similar to those of general depression and often involve the parent becoming emotionally withdrawn and overwhelmed with feelings of guilt because they are unable to bond with their child.
Affecting between 0.1 and 0.2 per cent of new mothers, puerperal psychosis is a rare and far more severe form of postnatal depression6. Though symptoms will vary from person to person, they can include delusions, hallucinations and persecutory beliefs about the child and in some cases will require admission to hospital and medication such as antipsychotics and antidepressants7.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics suggest that 5 in 1000 people experience a psychotic disorder such as schizophrenia or manic depression, making it one of the most common serious mental health conditions in the UK today1.
The same figures also show that whilst there are no distinct differences in the incidence of schizophrenia between men and women, men tend to be diagnosed at a slightly younger age (between 15 and 30) than women, in whom diagnoses are more common between the ages of 25 and 30 8.
Bipolar disorder, sometimes known as manic depression is a condition which characteristically see's individuals experience intermittent periods of intense depression and extreme highs (manias). Bipolar has an estimated lifetime prevalence of 1.3 per cent in adults, and though there are no marked differences in the prevalence between the sexes and the age of onset (early adolescent to early twenties), it is thought that women are more prone to bipolar where depressive episodes outweigh manias, which tend to be milder than those which occur in men9, 10.
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety related condition which see's sufferers unable to ignore urges to carry out repetitive and irrational issues to relieve certain anxieties. The World Health Organisation has listed OCD as one of the 10 most debilitating illnesses in terms of loss of income and reduced quality of life and according to the Office for National Statistics, 6 per cent of adults suffering from some form of neurotic disorder exhibited obsessive symptoms11.
OCD occurs equally in both male and females and generally symptoms begin during late adolescence for men and early twenties for women1.
According to figures from the Office for National Statistics, from 1991 to 2009 suicide rates among females have shown a predominantly steady downward trend, peaking between 1991 and 1992 at 6.7 per 100,000 before decreasing to 5.0 per 100,000 in 2007. In 2008 the prevalence increased again to 5.4 per 1,000 before declining again by 0.2 per cent in the next year.
The same figures also show that there is a marked difference between the number of suicides in males and females, with the prevalence of suicides in males remaining significantly higher than that of females for over a decade. Suicide rates in males peaked at 21.2 per 100,000 in 1992 and declined gradually to 16.8 per 100,000 in both 1992 and 1998 before continually reducing to 16.8 per 100,000 in 2007. In 2008 the rate increased to 17.7 per 100,000 and remained relatively similar in 2009 at 17.5 per 100,000.
Since 2005, females aged between 45 and 74 have had the highest rates of suicide compare to all other age brackets. In 2009 the rate of suicide for this age group was 5.8 per 100,00012. From 1991 – 2007 the suicide rates in women have been consistently at their lowest in the 14 to 44 age bracket, among whom the rate was 4.9 per 100,000 in both 2008 and 2009.
Social and economic Factors
Social and economic factors are aspects of a persons life and environment which may impact their mental health. For example, previous years have seen strong female stereotyping which has cast women in the role of sole carer for their children. It is traditional expectations such as these combined with additional external factors which may leave women to day feeling unsure of what is expected of them.
Employment and family
Though the 21st century has seen an increase in the number of women wishing to develop their own career, with many also opting to return to work after having a child, women still remain over-represented in low paid occupations such as teaching and care work.
Often, jobs such as nursing and working with children not only tend to come with a low social status but also with significant stresses of extensive responsibilities and overwork13. It is a combination of work issues such as these and the responsibilities of caring for a family which can lead to a number of women finding that the pressure of work and family life results in the development of mental distress.
In addition to this, women who are mothers, or those wishing to start a family may experience certain barriers between themselves and mental health services. For example, single mothers may avoid seeking help for a mental problem for fear they may lose custody of their children or may find themselves unable to fully utilise services because of childcare commitments.
There is a marked difference in the achievement levels between the sexes, beginning at an early age. In 2007 girls consistently scored higher than boys from Key Stage 1 up to Key Stage 314. The difference continued into the next stages of education, with 64 per cent of girls in their final year of compulsory education achieving five or more A* to C GCSE grades in 2005/06 compared to 54 pert cent of boys.
Though the number of young men achieving two or more GCE A levels increased from 18 per cent to 33 per cent between 2005 and 2006, the number of women doing the same increased from 20 to 44 per cent in the same period.
A levels in England saw a similar trend, with women continuing to outperform men in 2005/06 by achieving a greater number of A to C grades in the majority of subject groups with the exception of foreign languages (French, German and Spanish) and English (in which both sexes achieved equal proportions).
Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) figures show that at university, achievement levels between the sexes begin to level out with an equal number of men and women likely to achieve a first class degree.
The criminal justice system
According to the Office for National Statistics, a large number of prisoners in England and Wales are affected by various mental health concerns. One study in particular found that approximately one week before the survey began, 39 per cent of males who had been sentenced and 75 per cent of females on remand had significant neurotic problems including depression, phobias and anxiety.
Differences between remand prisoners and sentenced prisoners
Prisoners on remand have notably higher levels of neurotic disorders than those who have been sentenced, with the Office for National Statistics suggesting that female rates are significantly higher than the rates among men15. The percentage of sentenced prisoners suffering from a neurotic disorder is 62 per cent for women and 39 per cent for males, compared to 75 per cent for female prisoners on remand and 58 per cent for male prisoners on remand.
Self-harm among prisoners
Self-harm among female prisoners is a huge problem, with 10 per cent of female prisoners self-harming without the intention of suicide compared to under 6 per cent for males15. Between 2004 and 2008 the number of self-harm cases occurring in prison saw an increase of 42 per cent in female prisons with women making up 12,560 of the total 23,026 self-harm cases in 2008.
Women represent over 50 per cent of the total number of self-harm cases in prison. An extremely high figure considering the fact that only 5 per cent of the prison population is made up of women.
Violence against women
Rape and sexual abuse
The British Crime Surveys from 1998 and 2000 were designed to find the most accurate way of estimating the extent of sexual victimisation in England and Wales16. The results from both surveys were combined to produce a nationwide sample of 6,944 women between the ages of 16 and 59, of whom 1,183 women were found to be victims. Of those found to be victims, 0.9 per cent admitted to having been subjected to sexual victimisation of some description (including rape), in the last year and in the same period 0.4 per cent said they had been raped.
Figures from the British Crime Survey also estimate that approximately 754,000 women have been raped at least once since they were 16 and women who are sexually attacked by men are likely to know them in some way, with 32 per cent of attacks being committed by partners, 22 per cent being committed by acquaintances and the smallest percentage of attacks (8 per cent) being committed by strangers.
Domestic violence or domestic abuse as it is sometimes known is the term used to describe acts of violence within a family or relationship setting.
There are various forms of domestic violence and contrary to popular belief, physical violence is not always a factor and emotional and mental abuse can be just as damaging.
If you have been abused in either a physical or mental capacity by a friend or family member then it is important to remember you are not to blame and the person who is responsible is the one who is committing acts of physical and emotional abuse.
Figures from the British Crime Survey estimate that there were 12.9 million cases of domestic abuse against women in England and Wales in the year preceding interview17. In addition to this, 45 per cent of women are said to experience a minimum of one incident of inter-personal violence during their lifetime and though it is thought less than half of all domestic abuse incidents are reported to the police, they still receive the equivalent of one call every minute in the UK (amounting to 1,300 calls each day) 18.
Many women who have been subjected to domestic violence find that counselling is a confidential and safe environment in which they can outlet their feelings18. According to relationship charity Relate, almost one in five counselling sessions held in their English centres on September 28th 2008 mentioned domestic abuse as an issue in their marriage.
Back in 2005 the Home Office estimated that an average of two women are killed every week by either an ex-partner or violent partner, making up 40 per cent of all female homicide victims19. Furthermore, domestic violence is said to account for 16 per cent of all recorded violent crime20.
The cost of domestic violence
Domestic violence is a huge problem in England and Wales costing the economy an estimated £2.7 billion per year in losses and a further £3.1 billion per year in services such as the criminal justice system, social services, health, housing and civil legal21. Of course there is also the emotional cost to consider as many individuals who do experience domestic violence often go on to develop some form of mental health concern. Though it is difficult to fully estimate the emotional cost it is thought to be in the region of £17 billion, making the total cost of domestic abuse to victims, employers and the state around £23 billion per year.
Mental health of specific female groups
Because women have a higher life expectancy than men they make up a larger proportion of the elderly population and stand a higher chance of being diagnosed with a mental health concern22. In a survey on the mental health of older people from the Office for National Statistics, figures suggested that older women were more likely to have high levels of neurotic symptoms than men (12 per cent and 8 per cent respectively), and are more likely to be affected by a neurotic disorder (14 per cent and 9 per cent respectively).
Though the reason for these difference is largely unknown, experts have said it could be related to the fact that isolation and poverty are more common in older women than in older men as they are more likely to be reliant on a state pension and are less likely to have access to a car or to be drivers themselves. Chronic illness, living in care and grieving for lost loved ones will also have an impact.
Figures show that both lesbian and bisexual women are more vulnerable to suicide and have higher rates of suicide and attempted suicide than heterosexual women23. Whilst many cases of mental health issues may be completely disconnected from their sexuality, there is evidence which suggests that sigma and discrimination are both contributing factors.
Black and minority ethnic women
Despite the 2002 National Census estimating that six million people in the UK were of black and minority backgrounds, various studies have revealed that GPs still have difficulties in recognising psychiatric disorders, especially in black and minority ethic patients24.
Additional studies also show that GPs incorrectly diagnose mental illness in black and south Asian patients, making misdiagnosis an ongoing concern for any minority ethic groups wishing to use mental health services25.
The Race Relations Amendment Act which was first implemented in 1976 and later updated in 2000 is there to ensure that public organisations have a Race Equality Scheme (RES) which means they have a responsibility to ensure that the work they carry out does not adversely affect any minority groups.
- Twomey, R (2006), updated by Wallcraft, J. (2010) Women and mental health, Mind. Available: http://www.mind.org.uk/help/people_groups_and_communities/women_and_mental_health
1Office for National Statistics (2000), Psychiatric morbidity among adults living in private households in Great Britain. Available: http://www.statistics.gov.uk/downloads/theme_health/psychmorb.pdf
2Floy, L. (1988) Understanding eating distress. Mind (revised in 2007). [online], Available:http://www.mind.org.uk/help/diagnoses_and_conditions/eating_distress
3NHSChoices (2010), Eating disorders. Available: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Eating-disorders/Pages/Introduction.aspx
4Anon (n.d.) Some Statistics, Beat (revised in 2007). Available: http://www.b-eat.co.uk/ProfessionalStudentResources/Studentinformation-1/SomeStatistics
5Chung, T., Lee, D., Leung, T., and Yip, A. (2004) Ethnoepidemiology of postnatal depression, The British Journal of Psychiatry.
6Comport, M. (1996) Surviving Motherhood: How to Cope With Postnatal Depression, revised edition.
7Pillinger, P. (2007) netdoctor. Available: http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/ate/pregnancyandchildbirth/203881.html
8Riecher-Rossler, A and, Pfluger, M. (2010) Schizophrenia in women, Oxford Textbook of Women and Mental Health.
9Flood, E, Kleinman, L. and Lowin, A. (2003) Costs of bipolar disorder, Pharmacoeconomics.
10Barnes, C. and Mitchell, P. (2005) Considerations in the management of bipolar disorder in women, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry.
11Bascaran, M.T, Bobes, J. and Gonzalez, M.P. (2001)Quality of life and disability in patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder, European Psychiatry.
12Anon (2011) Suicides, Office for National Statistics. Available: http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=1092
13Perrons, D. (2009) Women and gender equity in employment, Institute for Employment Studies.
14Office for National Statistics (2007) Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF); Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), Education :Girls continue to outperform boys. Available: http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=1892
15Hatloy, I. (2009) 'The Criminal Justice System', Mind. Available: http://www.mind.org.uk/help/rights_and_legislation/statistics_8_the_criminal_justice_system#Personality%20disorders
16Allen, J. and Myhill, A. Rape and sexual assault of women: findings from the British Crime Survey. Available: rds.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs2/r159.pdf
17Allen, J. and Walby, S. (2004) Domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking: Findings from the British Crime Survey.
18Stanko, E. (2000) The Day to Count: A Snapshot of the Impact of Domestic Violence in the UK.
19Povey, D. (2005) Crime in England and Wales 2003/2004: Supplementary Volume 1: Homicide and Gun Crime. Home Office Statistical Bulletin.
20Dobash, R. and Dobash, R. (1980) Violence against wives.
21Walby, S. (2004) The cost of domestic violence.
22Evans, O., Singleton, N., Meltzer, H., Stewart, R. and Prince, M. (2003) The Mental Health of Older People, Office of National Statistics. Available: http://www.statistics.gov.uk/statbase/Product.asp?vlnk=10499
23Anon (2007) Mental disorders, suicide, and deliberate self-harm in lesbian, gay and bisexual people: a systematic review, Care Services Improvement Partnership, National Institute for Mental Health in England.
24National Census (2002) www.statistics.gov.uk
25Royal College of Psychiatrists, Royal College of Physicians London and the British Medical Association. (2001) Mental illness: stigmatisation and discrimination within the medical profession.
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