International Women’s Day: Addressing Unmet Needs in Women’s Mental Health

international womens day

International Women’s Day (IWD) is celebrated globally on March 8th each year, recognising and celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women worldwide. It is also a day to raise awareness about gender equality and advocate for women’s rights and empowerment.

Today serves as a reminder of the progress made towards gender equality, while also highlighting the ongoing challenges and areas where further action is needed – such as mental health care.

IWD is an opportunity to recognise and address the unmet needs in women’s mental health care, and to bring attention to the many and varied factors that affect women’s mental health. Issues such as discrimination, gender-based violence, fertility, menstruation, and menopause all affect women’s overall well-being and mental health.

Addressing unmet needs in women’s mental health is crucial for promoting overall well-being and equity in healthcare. Historically, women have faced unique challenges that often go unrecognised or untreated, leading to disparities in mental health outcomes.

Destigmatising conversations around women’s mental health is essential to encourage help-seeking behaviour and ensure that women feel empowered to prioritise their mental well-being.

Women’s Mental Health: A Look At The Numbers

Mental health issues affect both genders equally, yet some are more common in women than men, and vice versa.

Many factors can put women at a greater risk of poor mental health compared with men. However, it is believed that women are far more likely to talk about what they are going through and seek support through their social networks or in medical settings, so the higher prevalence of issues such as depression may be at least partly attributed to societal expectations and norms.


Depression is one of the most common mental health issues in the UK, affecting a wide range of people across their lifetimes. There remains a divide in depression diagnosis and treatment by gender, with over 1 in 3 women aged 16-24 experiencing moderate to severe depressive symptoms compared to just over 1 in 5 men.[1]

This gap is shrinking, and the reasons for statistics such as these are complex, affected by views and expectations of men, and women’s roles in society. However, what is important to consider is the difference in symptoms and ways of coping. Studies show that male and female depression present differently.

Men may exhibit anger outbursts, aggression, substance abuse, and risky behaviours. Conversely, women with depression commonly experience symptoms such as appetite disturbances, sleep problems, and intense feelings of sadness. They report more frequent depressive episodes throughout their lives, along with higher rates of atypical symptoms like excessive fatigue, overeating, oversleeping, anxiety, and somatization.[2]

We could think of this as internalising the pain of depression, rather than it producing the external outbursts of aggression that are seen in men. It is therefore important to address these symptoms from the inside out, with body-based strategies such as somatic experiencing and other polyvagal-informed approaches.

According to the NHS, over 1 in 10 women in the UK will experience post-natal depression within a year of giving birth, further increasing the gender-specific challenges, and the need for personalised treatment.


Suicide rates in the UK are rising, with men and women more likely to die of suicide than they were 10 years ago. Reducing suicide means supporting a wide-reaching, joined-up approach to address the causes of mental health struggles and increase access to high-quality, individualised mental health care.

34.6% of females and 19.3% of males aged 16-24 have reported having had thoughts of suicide in their lifetime. While more females attempt suicide than males, they are significantly less likely to die of suicide than men, although the gap is shrinking. Misconceptions surrounding suicide attempts in women often dismiss them as attention-seeking rather than serious threats. However, this notion is inaccurate. Failed suicide attempts among women significantly elevate the risk of future suicide. It’s crucial to take all suicide attempts seriously, regardless of gender. Variations in suicide methods contribute to the contrasting rates of completed suicides between men and women. Men typically opt for more violent and lethal methods like firearms or hanging, whereas women are more inclined towards drug overdose. Understanding these differences is vital for effective suicide prevention strategies.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Women grappling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) encounter a myriad of unique challenges. They often experience higher rates of trauma, including sexual assault and domestic violence, which can exacerbate PTSD symptoms.

Additionally, societal stigma and gender norms may discourage women from seeking help, leading to underreporting and delayed treatment. Hormonal fluctuations, particularly during pregnancy and menopause, can intensify PTSD symptoms. Moreover, women with PTSD are more likely to have comorbid conditions such as depression and anxiety.[3]

Factors Affecting Women

Women’s mental health is influenced by a wide variety of internal and environmental issues including discrimination, hormonal changes during menstruation and menopause, and gender-based violence. Systemic biases, reproductive milestones, and trauma from violence all contribute to mental health challenges women face, requiring comprehensive support and intervention.


Discrimination against women is a pervasive societal issue that significantly impacts mental health. Whether in the workplace, education, or social settings, women often face systemic biases and unequal treatment. This discrimination can lead to feelings of worthlessness, low self-esteem, and stress, contributing to the development of mental health disorders like depression and anxiety.

Moreover, gender-based discrimination intersects with other forms of marginalisation, such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status, exacerbating mental health disparities among women. Overcoming discriminatory barriers and promoting gender equality are essential steps toward improving the mental well-being of women.

Menstruation and Menopause

The hormonal fluctuations associated with menstruation and menopause can profoundly influence women’s mental health. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) are characterised by mood swings, irritability, and anxiety, significantly impacting women’s emotional stability and quality of life.

Additionally, the menopausal transition brings about hormonal changes that can trigger symptoms of depression, anxiety, and insomnia. The physical discomfort and emotional distress associated with these reproductive milestones often go unrecognised and undertreated, leading to prolonged mental health challenges for women. Education, support, and access to appropriate healthcare services are crucial in addressing the mental health needs of women during menstruation and menopause.

Gender-based Violence

Gender-based violence, including domestic abuse, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence, represents a grave threat to women’s mental health and well-being. Survivors of such violence often experience profound psychological trauma, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety.

The pervasive fear, shame, and isolation resulting from gender-based violence can lead to long-term mental health consequences, affecting every aspect of a woman’s life. Furthermore, societal norms and victim-blaming attitudes may deter survivors from seeking help, perpetuating their suffering and hindering their recovery process.

Addressing gender-based violence requires a comprehensive approach, including prevention efforts, survivor support services, and legal protections, to safeguard the mental health and dignity of women in all communities.

Paving the Way for Better Women’s Healthcare

In the spirit of International Women’s Day, it’s vital to shed light on the myriad factors affecting women’s mental health. Discrimination, menstrual cycles, menopause, and gender-based violence are among the key contributors to mental health challenges that women face globally.

We must prioritise destigmatising conversations around women’s mental health. Open dialogue fosters understanding and encourages women to seek the support they deserve. It’s crucial to acknowledge that these conversations not only empower individuals but also lead to systemic change.

Let’s use this International Women’s Day as a platform to amplify voices, challenge norms, and advocate for inclusive mental health care. Together, we can create a world where every woman feels valued, supported, and able to prioritise her mental well-being.



[2] Mohammadi S, Seyedmirzaei H, Salehi MA, Jahanshahi A, Zakavi SS, Dehghani Firouzabadi F, Yousem DM. Brain-based Sex Differences in Depression: A Systematic Review of Neuroimaging Studies. Brain Imaging Behav. 2023 Oct;17(5):541-569. doi: 10.1007/s11682-023-00772-8. Epub 2023 Apr 14. PMID: 37058182; PMCID: PMC10102695.


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