Key statistics about women and mental health

Written by Emily Whitton
Emily Whitton
Counselling Directory Content Team

Reviewed by Laura Duester
Last updated 18th July 2023 | Next update due 17th July 2025

Mental health issues affect men and women equally, yet some are more common in women than men, and vice versa.

There are a number of factors that can put women at a greater risk of poor mental health compared with men. However, is it believed that women are far more likely to talk about what they are going through and seek support through their social networks to help with their mental health.

On this page, we will look into statistics covering women and mental health, delving deeper into the different types of problems and we will find out how counselling can help.


Prevalence of key mental health problems among women

Women receive more primary (day-to-day) care than men for mental health conditions, yet the difference in secondary care (hospital and specialist treatment) is less. It’s hard to say that women experience more mental health issues at the primary care level, as women are more likely to seek help in comparison to their male counterparts.1

The prevalence of key mental health problems between men and women doesn’t differ greatly, but the types of conditions and the life stages when these problems are diagnosed do differ. For example, young women are three times more likely to experience common mental health problems like anxiety and depression as well as post-traumatic stress disorder. They are also over three times as likely to experience an eating disorder than men. 

Depression

Depression in women is thought to be higher than in men. Although the reasons for this are unknown, biological factors such as hormonal changes and social factors such as isolation and poverty are thought to be potential causes.

Over 1 in 3 women aged 16-24 experienced moderate to severe depressive symptoms (Autumn 2022, ONS

Over 1 in 10 women will experience post-natal depression within a year of giving birth according to the NHS


Due to women having an increased life expectancy, they are more likely to outlive their partner in comparison with men. This could trigger a move into residential care, which can cause depression due to new psycho-social factors. Older people are typically faced with difficult life events that don’t occur as often as younger people. Examples include bereavement, loss of independence and loneliness.

Anxiety

In comparison to men, women are twice as likely to experience a type of anxiety disorder. Women are 1.6 times more likely to experience obsessive-compulsive disorder than men2 whilst 21% of women have a specific phobia compared to 10% of men3.

Eating disorders

Women (particularly younger women) are more likely to develop an eating disorder in comparison to men. Research published in the Journal Cerebral Cortex suggests this is because women are more likely than men to experience brain activity related to negative body perception. 

Self-harm and suicide

According to research from the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (2014), girls are far more likely to self-harm than boys. In the UK, around one in four young women and one in 10 young men have self-harmed at some point in their life.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Throughout the world, more women are affected by PTSD due to the amount of exposure to sexual violence. For women, the lifetime prevalence of PTSD is 10-12% compared to 6-8% in men. 

Dementia

Alzheimer's Research UK estimates that 61% of people with dementia are women compared to 39% of men. As age increases, so does the risk of dementia and because women have a higher life expectancy compared with men, they are more likely to be diagnosed.


Social and economic factors

The role and status that women hold in society will typically have an effect on their mental health. Some of the more traditional roles women have in ethnic societies in the United Kingdom can increase the likelihood of these effects.

Some of the social factors that can affect women's mental health include:

  • Women are typically more likely to care for their children or other relatives than men. This can have an adverse effect on their physical and emotional health, finances and social life.
  • Women may juggle several roles within a family - they could be a partner, carer and mother as well as running the household and holding down a job.
  • Women are more likely to live in poverty in comparison to men. They are also over-represented in low-status, low-income jobs that are often taken on part-time.
  • Sexual and physical abuse, which is more commonly experienced by women, can have a devastating impact on their mental health - this is especially true if no help is sought.

How can counselling help?

All of the problems stated above, among many others, can be addressed by talking therapies. They can offer you help and support to get to grips with the underlying difficulties that you are facing. There are many different types of therapy available. Although all can be effective, you may find that one approach fits your situation better than another.

Talking to a professional can be daunting at first, but it is a way to take back control of your life. You can work with a counsellor to build new ways of coping and establish healthier ways of thinking. If you are unsure of what happens in a session, you can take a look at our What is counselling? page to get an idea.

If you think you are ready to speak to someone about a problem you are facing, you can search for a counsellor or psychotherapist near you using our advanced search tool.


References

  • 1 Pilgrim, D. (2010). 'Mind the gender gap: mental health in a post-feminist context', Oxford textbook of women and mental health. 
  • 2 Fawcett, E. et al (2020). 'Women Are at Greater Risk of OCD Than Men: A Meta-Analytic Review of OCD Prevalence Worldwide'.
  • 3 Fredrikson. M et al (1996). 'Gender and age differences in the prevalence of specific fears and phobias'.
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