Published on: October 1, 2016
Young women are the highest risk group for mental health problems, according to new data from NHS Digital.
One in five women reported a common mental disorder such as anxiety and depression in 2014, compared with one in eight men, according to the study of mental health and wellbeing.
Young women also have high rates of self-harm, and post-traumatic stress and bipolar disorders.
Mental health charities said the figures showed “nothing had improved”.
The National Study of Health and Wellbeing has been carried out every seven years since 1993. This latest report is based on research on 7,500 members of the public – just over 300 of them were women aged 16-24.
The 2014 data showed the gender gap in mental illness had become most pronounced in young people, and had increased since the first survey.
In 1993, 19% of 16-to-24-year-old women surveyed reported symptoms of CMD compared with 8% of men of the same age.
In a snapshot, 26% of women aged 16-24 reported symptoms of common mental disorders in one week, compared to 9% of men in the same age group.
More women in every age group reported symptoms in one week compared with men of the same age.
What does the study say?
In 2014, women aged 16-24 were three times as likely to report symptoms of anxiety and depression as than men – 26% compared to 9%.
Post-traumatic stress disorder was seen in 12.6% of women of that age compared with 3.6% of men.
CMD rates have steadily increased in women and remained largely stable in men, since the last survey in 2007.
Women were also more likely than men to report severe symptoms – 10% of women compared with 6% of men.
The proportion of the population reporting self-harming was 6%, up from 4% in 2007 and 2% in 2000. Researchers suggest this could be due to increased reporting.
In 2014, one in five 16-to-24-year-old women (25.7%) reported having self-harmed at some point.
That is about twice the rate for men in this age group (9.7%) and women aged 25-34 (13.2%).
The report’s authors say this is the first cohort to come of age in the context of social media, and call for more research about its impact.
One in three adults with anxiety or depression was accessing mental health treatment in 2014, up from one in four in 2007.
The study found medication was the most common form of treatment for all conditions, being taken by 10% of those interviewed, with 3% receiving psychological therapy.
The data showed people who were white British, female, or aged 35 to 54 were more likely to receive treatment.
What do the experts say?
Stephen Buckley, head of information at the mental health charity Mind, said: “Young people are coming of working age in times of economic uncertainty. They’re more likely to experience issues associated with debt, unemployment and poverty, and they are up against increasing social and environmental pressures, all of which affect well-being.
He said there had been a “surge” in the use of social media since the last survey in 2009.
“It can help people feel less isolated, particularly those who struggle to make and maintain relationships or who find it difficult to leave their homes.
“But it also comes with some risks. Its instantaneous and anonymous nature means it’s easy for people to make hasty and sometimes ill-advised comments that can negatively affect other people’s mental health.”
Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of the mental health charity Sane, said the report painted a “disturbing picture”.
“Perhaps the most shocking finding is the escalation in both the extent and severity of self-harm, particularly amongst young women. At Sane, the number of calls from people who are self-harming or experiencing suicidal thoughts has almost trebled in the last 10 years.”
Elizabeth Scowcroft from The Samaritans said the rise in people feeling suicidal, attempting to take their own life and self-harming was “alarming”.
“The fact that half of adults who attempted suicide did not reach out for help afterwards is particularly concerning.
“The increase in self-harm is worrying because it’s the biggest indicator that someone may go on to take their own life. It is critical that we learn more about the links between self-harm and suicide and that anyone who self-harms can receive the support they need.”
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “We want to make sure that everyone, regardless of gender, age or background, gets the mental health treatment they need.”
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