We Must Do More To Halt The Worrying Rise In Women's Suicide

14/09/2016 17:49
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It's well recognised that suicide is gendered. Men aged 20-49 in the UK are more likely to die by suicide than any other cause of death, and lots of good work is being done to address this awful statistic. Charities like CALM are running campaigns that target the aspects of being a man which might put someone more at risk of suicide.

What's less well recognised is the relationship between suicide and being female. Perhaps surprisingly, women are three times more likely than men to attempt suicide, even though, for many reasons, men are more likely to die from it.

Women's experiences of self-harm and suicidal behaviour are intimately tied up with their experiences of being female. And the evidence suggests that female suicides are on the rise (up by more than 8% in a year), even as, thankfully, it seems that male suicide is declining. If we want to reduce the suffering people experience around suicidal thoughts, we need to start helping women in a gendered way too.

Women are more likely than men to experience mental health problems overall, and the conditions men and women suffer from differ. Women and girls face higher rates of depression, anxiety, eating disorders and trauma related conditions. Men are more likely to face substance abuse, and young men and boys are more likely to be diagnosed with conduct disorders.

For women, there's an extra burden. Agenda's own research suggests that the higher rate of mental illness among women can be explained by women's greater likelihood of being abused. And this ties in with female suicide: a third of women who have faced the most extensive abuse and violence have attempted suicide, compared with only 2% of women who haven't had those experiences.

With mental health being so gendered it follows that women who face mental illness need different support to men. Things like women-only therapeutic spaces, so they can feel safe opening up about the abuse they've experienced, support which addresses their needs as mothers, and holistic support to deal with the complexity of the problems they often face.

Without the right help, many women spiral from crisis to crisis, living lives marked by misery. Providing support can not only bring joy back to these women's lives, it also provides a much more stable foundation for them to raise their families, helping to support mental wellbeing in the next generation.

We're calling for the new mental health equalities champion to have a focus on women's mental health, and to champion women's needs across the NHS. We want to see women's clinical leads in every mental health trust. And we also want front-line staff across the NHS to be routinely asking about women's experiences of violence and abuse, so that the right help can be provided as soon as possible.

One of the most striking findings on female suicide, for me, is that men who survive a suicide attempt are more likely than women to seek help. Perhaps this goes some way to explain why I meet so many extraordinarily vulnerable women who have attempted suicide over and over again, but have never been offered proper support. We can't rely on women to ask for help; many have a hard enough time simply surviving day-to-day.

Our research found that there are 1.2million women in the UK who've experienced the most extensive kinds of abuse and violence. That's a huge and preventable weight of sadness pressing down on one group in our society. We urge the Government to make women's mental health a priority, to help address some of this pain.