What mental illnesses are more common in females?
Men and women: statistics
This content mentions sexual assault, suicide or suicidal thoughts, self-harm, eating disorders, anxiety, abuse and violence, trauma, body image and substance abuse and addiction (which may include mentions of alcohol or drug use), and some people may find this triggering.
Mental health problems affect both men and women, but not in equal measure.
In England in 2014, one in six adults had a common mental health problem: about one in five women and one in eight men. From 2000 to 2014, rates of common mental health problems in England steadily increased in women and remained largely stable in men. 1
In 2018, there were 6,507 suicides registered in the UK 2 , and in 2019, there were 5,691 suicides registered in England and Wales:
- Of these, three-quarters were among men, which has been the case since the mid-1990s 2,3
- Three times as many men as women die by suicide. 4
- Men aged 40 to 49 have the highest suicide rates in the UK. 5
Men report lower levels of life satisfaction than women, according to the government’s national wellbeing survey. 6
Men are less likely to access psychological therapies than women: only 36% of referrals to NHS talking therapies are for men. 7
Nearly three-quarters of adults who go missing are men. 4
87% of rough sleepers are men. 4
Men are nearly three times as likely as women to become dependent on alcohol and three times as likely to report frequent drug use. 4
Men are more likely to be compulsorily detained (or ‘sectioned’) for treatment than women. 8
Men are more likely to be victims of violent crime (1.5 more likely than women). 9
Men make up the vast majority of the prison population. There are high rates of mental health problems and increased rates of self-harm in prisons. 4
Women between the ages of 16 and 24 are almost three times as likely (26%) to experience a common mental health issue as males of the same age (9%). 10
Women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety as men. 11
25.7% of women and 9.7% of men aged 16 to 24 report having self-harmed at some point in their life. 12
Statistics about women and girls’ mental health
According to our 2017 report on the mental health of women and girls:
- Today, women are three times more likely than men to experience common mental health problems. In 1993, they were twice as likely
- Rates of self-harm among young women have tripled since 1993
- Women are more than three times as likely to experience eating disorders than men
- Young women are three times more likely than young men to experience post-traumatic stress disorder
- Young women are more likely to experience anxiety-related conditions than any other group
The context behind the statistics
Domestic violence and abuse
Mental ill-health has a strong association with domestic violence, and there has been a significant increase in levels of domestic violence over recent years.
Recent research with mental health service users in London found that:
- 70% of women had experienced domestic violence during their lifetimes
- 27% of women had experienced domestic violence in the past year
- 61% of women reported having experienced sexual violence during adulthood
- 10% reported having experienced sexual violence in the past year
Despite the close association between mental health and domestic violence, there is a poor record of mental health services detecting the issues.
Online culture, social media, body image and pornography
Online culture and social media can place pressure on young women and impact their mental health.
The report ‘#StatusOfMind’ on social media and young people’s mental health and wellbeing found that:
- 90% of teenage girls say they are unhappy with their bodies
- Studies showed that when young women and girls view Facebook for only a short period, their body image concerns are higher compared to non-users
Girl guides research found that:
- Large numbers of girls report holding themselves back from doing everyday things they’d like to do for fear of their bodies being criticised
- 37% of girls aged 11 to 21 say they compare themselves to celebrities ‘most of the time’ or ‘often’
- Girls commonly cited social media and online influences as factors contributing to anxiety and poor self-esteem
Prince’s Trust found that:
- 70% of young women agreed with the sentiment that online portrayals were unrealistic
- 69% said that lack of self-confidence was one of the key things that held them back
However, online culture is a double-edged sword: half of the girls also said they are using social media to empower themselves to speak out.
Pornography and online culture — A survey found that:
- Many young women are under pressure to adopt pornified roles and behaviours, with their bodies being merely sex aids for male gratification and pleasure
- Girls in school report being under pressure for images they don’t want to send, with boys using these images as a form of currency to swap, share and publicly humiliate girls
The changing culture around social media, the internet and pornography brings issues of control, objectification, consent and sexual power into the lives of young women and girls across the country.
Economic and historical context
There is an economic and historical dimension to increasing mental ill-health in young women and girls.
- Young women and girls who are from low-income backgrounds are particularly vulnerable in terms of their mental health
- There has been a disproportionate effect from government austerity measures which were introduced in 2010 on these vulnerable groups
- In total, austerity cuts have cost women a total of £79 billion since 2010
- Research from the House of Commons Library pointed to the disproportionate price that women have been paying for austerity measures, with 86% of the burden for austerity falling on women
- Young mothers are another group who have been particularly affected by the hardships of austerity
- Expectations that young women should “have it all” (establishing a successful career before marrying and having children — if they choose to) place pressure on young women today that was not felt by previous generations
These are just some of the reasons that women and girls can experience poor mental health.
If you feel like ending your life or are unable to keep yourself safe, 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. If you feel affected by the content you have read, please see our get help page for support.
Our 2016 study ‘The Fundamental Facts about Mental Health’ follows a comprehensive summary of mental health research, providing a unique handbook of key facts and figures covering all key areas of mental health.
Good mental health is essential to overall well-being. More than 1 in 5 women in the United States experienced a mental health condition in the past year, such as depression or anxiety. 1 Many mental health conditions, such as depression and bipolar disorder, affect more women than men or affect women in different ways from men. 2,3 Most serious mental health conditions cannot be cured. But they can be treated, so you can get better and live well. 4
Top questions about mental health and women
- How do I know if I have a mental health condition?
- How can I have a healthy body image?
- How do eating disorders affect a woman’s health?
Good mental health
Mental health conditions
Abuse, trauma, and mental health
Body image and mental health
Living and working
Get help now
- The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
- Danielle Johnson, M.D., FAPA, Psychiatrist, Medical Staff President, Chief of Adult Psychiatry, Director, Women’s Mental Health Program, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience, University of Cincinnati
- Cassidy Gutner, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Boston University School of Medicine; National Center for PTSD, Women’s Health Sciences Division, VA Boston Healthcare System, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
- Mark A. Lumley, Ph.D., Professor and Director of Clinical Psychology Training, Department of Psychology, Wayne State University, and his Stress and Health Laboratory team: Jennifer Carty, Heather Doherty, Hannah Holmes, Nancy Lockhart, and Sheri Pegram
- Mark Chavez, Ph.D., Chief, Eating Disorders Research Program, NIMH
- Kamryn T. Eddy, Ph.D., and Jennifer J. Thomas, Ph.D., Associate Professors of Psychology, Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School; Co-Directors of the Eating Disorders Clinical and Research Program, Massachusetts General Hospital
- Kendra Becker, M.S., Clinical Fellow in Psychology, Department of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital
- Michael Kozak, Ph.D., Division of Adult Translational Research and Treatment Development, NIMH
- Alicia Kaplan, M.D., Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Temple University School of Medicine and Drexel University College of Medicine, and Staff Psychiatrist, Division of Adult Services, Department of Psychiatry, Allegheny Health Network, Allegheny General Hospital
All material contained on these pages are free of copyright restrictions and maybe copied, reproduced, or duplicated without permission of the Office on Women’s Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Citation of the source is appreciated.
Page last updated: February 16, 2021
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Women and mental health
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.
This page is aimed at all women, but trans women may also find useful information from Mermaids and Gendered Intelligence.
What affects women’s mental health?
Around one in five women have a common mental health problem, such as depression and anxiety. While there can be many reasons why these develop, some risk factors affect many women. Women are more likely than men:
- to be carers, which can lead to stress, anxiety and isolation. Carers UK has information on looking after your mental health
- to live in poverty which, along with concerns about personal safety and working mainly in the home, can lead to social isolation
- to experience physical and sexual abuse, which can have a long-term impact on their mental health. Contact Refuge if you’re experiencing domestic violence
- to experience sexual violence, which can cause PTSD
When women find it hard to talk about difficult feelings, they tend to internalise them. This can lead to depression, eating disorders and self-harm. Men are more likely to act out their feelings through disruptive or anti-social behaviour.
On the other hand, some factors protect women’s mental health: they tend to have better social networks than men, find it easier to confide in their friends and are more likely to have been treated for a mental health problem.
Women’s health issues
Life events and hormonal changes can affect women’s mental health.
Having a baby is a life-changing event. For some women, it can trigger postnatal depression (after birth) and/or antenatal depression (during pregnancy). The term ‘perinatal depression’ covers both.
Perinatal depression isn’t a sign of weakness; it doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent. There is help available: talking therapy, medication or specialist services depending on your symptoms and what’s right for you.
PANDAS offers information and support to people experiencing perinatal mental health problems.
While every woman’s experience of the menopause is different, many women find they have symptoms in addition to their periods stopping. These can include changes to your mental health, such as mood swings, anxiety and feeling low. Treatment includes hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or talking therapy. Speak to your GP about what’s best for you.
COVID-19 and women’s mental health
We must acknowledge the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on women’s mental health.
Women make up the majority of frontline health and care workers, are more likely to do unpaid work, are overrepresented in low-paid and insecure work and are more likely to have pre-existing difficulties with debt and bills. They are also more likely to shoulder a higher proportion of caring responsibilities.
All of the women in these positions were at greater risk of developing a mental health problem before the pandemic and will be at increased risk as the economic ramifications of the pandemic are realised. It is also the case that women are much more likely to be affected by domestic violence and abuse, the risk of incidence of which increased during the lockdown.
The Women’s Mental Health Taskforce recommended that women be explicitly considered in all future mental health policies.
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.
Some organisations offer practical and emotional advice and support. Find out more on our ‘getting help’ page.
If you feel like ending your life or are unable to keep yourself safe, 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.