Sexism linked to higher rates of depression in young women

By agency reporter
November 29, 2019

Young women who experience sexism are five times more likely to suffer from clinical depression, new research by the Young Women Trust and University College London has found.  The higher rate of mental ill health compares to those who said they had not experienced sexism, according to the report. 

The report also calls on society and government to recognise and take seriously the impact sexism – including being attacked or threatened because of your sex – is having on young women in the UK,  and to fully fund educational and other support services to help build a future free from violence and abuse.

The study  showed the 16-30 age group is most likely to experience sexism at school, work, on public transport, in taxis and outside of the home – and at higher rates than other ages, with 82 per cent of those who had experienced sexism saying they had been subjected to street harassment. 

Those women aged 16-30 who had experienced sexism – including attacks or threats – reported greater psychological distress even four years later, indicating the devastating impact on mental health over time, particularly for young women. 

Young Women’s Trust Chief Executive Sophie Walker, said:This study shows a clear and damaging link between sexism and young women’s mental health. While women of all ages continue to experience sexism, this research shows that it is young women who are most affected. 

“What too often is dismissed as young women lacking confidence is in reality a crisis in mental health caused by a sexist society. Sexism is deeply affecting young women’s lives, their economic freedom and their health. That’s why the next Government must take urgent and concerted action to prevent yet more young women from experiencing sexual harassment and abuse, and the long-term harm this can cause.”

Young Women’s Trust worked with Dr Ruth Hackett from University College London (UCL) on the study, and sexism was defined in the survey as feeling unsafe, avoiding going to/being in a setting, being insulted and/or threatened, or being physically attacked because of sex.

The report, which surveyed 2995 16-93 year-olds including 1,041 16-30 year-olds, combines analysis of a large UK dataset with first-hand experiences and views from young women. As one of the young women reported: “In my personal experience, I have struggled with both stress and anxiety in part as a result of the sexism I experienced within the workplace. I dreaded going to work every morning, and it took its toll on both my mental and physical health, and I became a shell of the person I once was.”

Sophie Walker added: “It’s not just about recognition of the damage sexism inflicts. We need mainstream services supporting young women experiencing mental ill health from having sexism thrown in their faces day after day to be able to sensitively ask them about their experiences of sexist discrimination, abuse and violence, and then provide appropriate support and signposting.

“Mixed sex adult mental health services are often not accessible or appropriate. There is a need for more specialist young women’s mental health services, alongside investment in vital services to address violence against young women and girls. 

“We need to prevent mental health impacts continuing for years into young women’s adult lives. As one of our Advisory Panel Members highlighted in the report, ‘sexism sits in the core of you and if you try and ignore it and don’t address it, it rots away and the problems permeate to other areas of your life’.”

* Read the report Impact of sexism on young women's mental health here

* Young Women's Trust


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