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Increasing mental health difficulties in young women

Findings in the 2014 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (APMS) show that women aged 16-24 are the group most at risk from a range of mental health difficulties, including anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The survey also shows that while the proportion of young men reporting psychological distress has remained stable since the APMS’ inception in 1993, the rate in young women has increased significantly, such that symptoms of common mental health disorders are now almost three times more prevalent in women aged 16-24 (26%) than in their male counterparts (9%). This discrepancy was also reflected in reports of self-harm, with around 8% of males and 20% of females disclosing the behaviour.

 

While it is acknowledged that these trends could in part be accounted for by an increased willingness to talk about mental health difficulties, a number of alternative or complementary explanatory frameworks have been proposed. In an article on The Guardian website (dated 29/09/2016), the survey’s lead researcher, Sally McManus, draws attention to the long-term effects of domestic or sexual violence and childhood abuse, as well as, more generally, “the age of social media ubiquity”, in which, as Professor Maureen Baker concurs, “young people face unprecedented pressures, over… constant exposure to unattainable aspirations of what they should look and be like.”

 

A further finding of the survey is that medication remains the most common response to mental health difficulties, with more than three times as many people reporting to the receipt of medical treatment as to psychological therapy. As the need for mental health services continues to exceed capacity, it is likely that this trend will endure and escalate. However, when it comes to the long-term challenges highlighted by Sally McManus and the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey, such as overcoming trauma or developing strategies to cope with everyday stressors, it is essential for medication to be integrated (if used at all) into a broader approach incorporating a combination of lifestyle changes, therapy, and good mental hygiene.

 

If you are experiencing mental health difficulties, you can seek advice from your GP or self-refer for an appointment at Psicon by emailing enquiries@psicon.co.uk.