Women and mental health

In England, around one in five women has a common mental health problem such as anxiety, depression or self-harm.

*Last updated: 5 March 2021

Social and economic factors can put women at greater risk of poor mental health than men. However, women generally find it easier to talk about their feelings and have stronger social networks, both of which can help protect their mental health.

Women’s mental health in the UK

A 2016 study showed that:

  • one in five women compared to one in eight men had a mental health problem
  • there was a steady increase in the number of women experiencing mental health difficulties, with young women particularly at risk
  • one in five women aged 16-25 reported recently self-harming
  • suicide rates in women were at their highest for a decade.

In addition, rates of suicide and self-harm were higher for women in minority ethnic communities compared to other women.

What affects women’s mental health?

There are a number of factors affecting women’s mental health.

  • Women are more likely to be the main carer for their children than men, and may care for older or disabled relatives too. Women carers are more likely to experience anxiety and depression than other women.
  • Women are more likely to live in poverty than men.
  • Poverty, working mainly in the home and concerns about personal safety can all make women feel isolated. Social isolation is linked to mental health problems.
  • Physical and sexual abuse can have a long-term impact on women’s mental health, especially if they haven’t received any support.
  • Women are exposed to more sexual violence than men, which means more women are affected by PTSD.

When women find it hard to talk about difficult feelings and internalise them, this can lead to problems such as depression and eating disorders. They may express their emotional pain through self-harm, whereas men are more likely to act out their feelings through disruptive or anti-social behaviour.

There are also factors that protect women’s mental health: they tend to have better social networks than men and find it easier to confide in their friends. Women are also more likely to have been treated for a mental health problem (29% compared with 17% of men). This reflects women's greater willingness to acknowledge they need help. It may also reflect doctors’ expectations of the kinds of health problem that women and men are likely to encounter. 

Why do more women than men experience depression?

One in four women experience depression compared to one in 10 men. It’s not clear why this is, but factors such as poverty, isolation and hormonal changes are likely to make an impact. Some researchers also believe depression is under-reported in men.

Around 10-20% of women experience depression while they’re pregnant or after giving birth. Lots of people are aware of postnatal depression, which occurs around the first year after giving birth. But it’s less well known that women can experience antenatal depression while they’re pregnant. PANDAS is a specialist organisation offering information and support to people experiencing postnatal or antenatal depression.

Women have a longer life expectancy than men, meaning they’re more likely to experience the mental health difficulties that can come with older age. Older people are often faced with more difficult life events and daily stresses than younger people, which may explain their increased risk of depression. Losses – such as bereavement or loss of independence – can also trigger depression. Around 40% of people in care homes have symptoms of depression.

What can I do if I’m worried about my mental health?

If you want some tips on staying well, start by looking at our 10 practical ways to look after your mental health. Making simple changes such as talking about your feelings, keeping active and eating well can help you feel better.

If you’re concerned you’re developing a mental health problem, talk to your GP. It can be daunting, but most people find that speaking to their GP and getting help and support can make a big difference to their lives.

If you're in distress and need immediate help or are feeling like ending your life, please call 999 or go to A&E and ask for the contact of the nearest crisis resolution team. These are teams of mental health care professionals who work with people in severe distress.

There are organisations that offer practical and emotional advice and support. Find out more on our ‘getting help’ page.