As is often the case when public attention is on mental health, we’re constantly told about the value of talking.
Quite right - talking is great and can be the first step on the road to recovery.
But for many of us it will only get you so far.
If consensus on women’s “natural state” is to be believed, we are very good at talking.
Yet, we see poor mental health among women and especially girls increasing at alarming rates.
One in five women has a common mental health disorder like anxiety and depression, compared to one in eight men.
That rises to one in four for young women aged between 16 and 25. A similar proportion of this age group have self-harmed and one in seven has post-traumatic stress disorder.
So all this yacking doesn’t seem to be getting us very far, does it?
Part of the reason is that when women decide to come forward and speak, there is no-one there to listen.
When women do find the courage to reach out, to ask for help – rather than getting it, they are left sitting on waiting lists for months. Or worse, they are ignored, their concerns dismissed as trivial, or they are seen as manipulative and simply not believed.
Increasingly, women have to be in crisis to get any tangible support at all.
We have heard from one woman who after several serious psychotic episodes only got admitted to hospital after attempting suicide. Her son had been pleading with authorities on her behalf for weeks.
This is far from unusual. For some, even self harm and suicide attempts do not mean they get the help they need.
And for those women who do eventually receive support from mental health services, they often find it doesn’t take their needs into account.
This is where all this emphasis on talking starts to get a bit wearing.
Women tell us that they are either not asked the right questions that would help inform their care or they are asked the same distressing questions over and over again seemingly to no positive end.
This is particularly pertinent, when we consider the impact of abuse on women and girls’ mental health.
More than half of women who have a mental health problem have experienced some form of abuse.
We know that often women are not being asked about their experiences of abuse, a practice called ‘routine enquiry’, despite national guidelines.
As a result, women end up getting ‘care’ that does not take these experiences into account and can serve only to traumatise them further. The unacceptably high rates of physical restraint among women and girls are a perfect example of this.
At the other end of the spectrum, we see women having to relive horrific experiences in referral after referral, passed from service to service, new face to new face. It is rare to see the same professional all the way through the therapeutic process, so it is unsurprising they keep asking the same questions.
Surely, there must be a better way.
And perhaps talking can help after all. This week I met with the Women’s Mental Health Taskforce, which I co-chair with the minister for mental health Jackie Doyle-Price MP
It brings together experts from across the women’s and mental health sectors to discuss ways to help avert this seemingly looming crisis in women’s mental health.
But it isn’t just a talking shop. We are trying to create real change – and identify ways to improve the support women currently receive.
Mental health services from counselling to secure hospitals need to be better at picking up on and responding to women’s experiences of trauma.
Alongside this we of course need actual investment in services across the board as well.
There needs to be more community support so that women can get the support they need, when they need it – and not when they are at breaking point.
Yes it is good to talk this Mental Health Awareness Week. But I think we now need to see the action to back it up as well.