Almost a third of women aged over 18 have taken antidepressants, according to research published today which its authors claim reveals "generations of women in crisis" with mental health problems. According to a survey of more than 2,000 girls and women in England and Wales, around two-thirds have had mild to moderate mental health problems, equivalent to 15.2 million girls and women.

Penny Newman, chief executive of Platform 51 (formerly the Young Women's Christian Association), said: "Millions of girls and women are facing mental health problems and they are telling us that they are not getting the support they need. Our study reveals generations of women in crisis … women are often the linchpins of their families and their communities, and if three in five of them aren't meeting their potential, they lose out, their family and friends lose out – and so does the wider society."

What is most striking about the behaviour of women suffering from mental health problems is that it is often self-destructive and hidden.

Professor Louise Howard, head of women's mental health at King's College London, said the figures were "very interesting and relevant". She said: "There is evidence that there is under-identification of people with mental health problems that need treatment."


This is a disturbing report, albeit one that simply gives scientific credence to what most of those with an interest in mental health in my country already knew. What it must not be taken as is evidence of discrimination against women. Our underfunded, understaffed welfare services bend over backwards to positively discriminate in favour of women and ethnic minorities. If there is this level of under-diagnosis of female mental health problems, I would guess that there is just as much under-diagnosis of men suffering from mental health problems.

The big question is, what is producing this rise in mental illness among women in England?

One suggestion I would make is that it is the result of the sudden (in evolutionary terms) change in the expectations that society (and women themselves) have of the roles women should now assume. I know from personal experience how confusing and stressful the change in roles now expected of men can be. Society (through popular media such as TV and novels) still insists that we are strong and caring of "our women." Yet it also expects us to turn our hand to what were previously regarded as female responsibilities and change our mental outlooks accordingly. Like it or not, a lot of women expect a man to be both dominant and submissive according to the woman's requirements at any given time. This is a perfectly fair expectation but working out when to be one thing and when to be another is difficult, and the male ability to get things completely wrong when it comes to women has not yet evolved out of our nature.

So, if this is true of men is it also true of women who are now expected to assume many responsibilities that were previously thought of as within the preserve of men, at home and at work, whilst still having to burden all the responsibilities that are traditionally the preserve of women? One thing is for certain, in my opinion, women have taken on male responsibilities more fully than men have taken on women's roles. That women work all day and then come home where they are still expected to do the majority (all) of the housework and childcare is a situation that most men acknowledge and feel guilty about - but never do anything to remedy. It's a fact - the evolution of the male of the species towards equity among the sexes is lagging far behind the evolution of the female in this respect.

The question this raises is should we look backwards for an answer or forwards?

If we do decide to ride the storm out because it will eventually lead to more civilised and fair society then, if this report is accurate, we need to take more care of both sexes, but especially women who are bearing the brunt of societal changes, in regard to the stresses caused by change so that the horrendous number of people requiring help for mental health problems can be reduced.


WOMEN IN CRISIS — 8 Comments

  1. This is all intensely interesting – both the passage from the Guardian and your comment, MadPriest. I’ll need to think about it a while before I comment, however. The whole matter is certainly worrying.

  2. I would emphasise that my suggestion is no doubt, if it is valid, still only one of the contributing factors. My apologies to those who demand nuance.

  3. Interesting report and comments. It is clear to me that we are in a process of role re-definition and have no clue where we are heading or what the new world looks like.


  4. It worries me that we are ending up with a perversion of roles that are no longer dependent on sex for their definition. We now have dangerously macho men and dangerously macho women on one side and passive women and wimpish men on the other. Let’s hope this is just a Hegelian sorting out and that we will reach a healthy balance very soon.