Young women subject to sexism are five times more likely to suffer from clinical depression, a new study has found.
The report, carried out by the Young Women Trust and University College London, looked at the mental health of women who have suffered sexism and those who had not.
Researchers found the 16-30 age bracket is most likely to experience sexism at school, in the workplace, on public transport, in cabs and beyond the home – as well as enduring it at higher rates than other ages.
Some 82 per cent of those who had battled against sexism said they were victims of street harassment.
Sophie Walker, chief executive of Young Women’s Trust, said the study shows a “clear and damaging link” between sexism and young women’s mental health.
She said: “What too often is dismissed as young women lacking confidence is, in reality, a crisis in mental health caused by a sexist society. Sexism is deeply affecting young women’s lives, their economic freedom and their health.
“That is why the next government must take urgent and concerted action to prevent yet more young women from experiencing sexual harassment and abuse, and the long-term harm this can cause. It’s not just about recognition of the damage sexism inflicts.
“We need mainstream services supporting young women experiencing mental ill-health from having sexism thrown in their faces day after day to be able to sensitively ask them about their experiences of sexist discrimination, abuse and violence, and then provide appropriate support and signposting. As one of our Advisory Panel Members highlighted in the report, ‘sexism sits in the core of you and if you try and ignore it and don’t address it, it rots away and the problems permeate to other areas of your life’.”
Ms Walker argued mixed sex adult mental health services are often not accessible or suitable and called for more specialist young women’s mental health services coupled with investment to tackle violence against young women and girls.
“I dreaded going to work every morning, and it took its toll on both my mental and physical health, and I became a shell of the person I once was.”
Those women aged between 16 and 30 who had endured sexism reported higher levels of psychological distress even four years later – with researchers saying this demonstrates the “devastating impact” on mental health over time.
Vicki Nash, of mental health charity Mind, said: “We know that discrimination, harassment and trauma of any kind can lead to someone developing mental health problems. This report shows how specific experiences of sexism can have a real, detrimental impact on mental well being and should be taken into account when women seek support.
”This is also why it is vital that people are able to access the mental health services they need when they need them. We hear every day from women with mental health problems who have struggled to get the right help even though one in five women experience a common mental health problem, such as depression, and experiences of sexism can increase the likelihood of this.”
Ms Nash argued there were too many women in the UK who were “not having their needs met” by mental health services – adding it was vital women are not “re-traumatized” by being placed on a mixed-sex ward.
Gemma Rosenblatt, of women’s rights organisation Fawcett Society, said the findings of the research show the “shocking impact” of sexism on the mental health of young women.
She added: “Sexism should not be laughed off as insignificant or banter. When young women report, as they do here, feeling unsafe, threatened or physically attacked because of their sex, it is time for society to act. Treating the consequences of sexism isn’t good enough – we need to stop this happening in the first place.’
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