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Taskforce reports on women and mental health

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The Women's Mental Health Taskforce, Report, Agenda, Health and Social Care, restraint, male staff, self harm, mothers, ‘…An important first step towards tackling the injustices facing women…’

The Women’s Mental Health Taskforce has set out its key principles for gender and trauma-informed care in the final report it released earlier this week.

Co-chaired by Health Minister Jackie Doyle-Price MP, and Katharine Sacks-Jones, Chief Executive of Agenda, the alliance for women and girls at risk, the taskforce was set up in 2017 following Agenda’s Women in Mind campaign, as evidence illustrated deteriorating mental health among women and the poor outcomes experienced by those using support services.

Drawing on women’s own experiences of mental ill-health, revealed at a series of focus groups, the report encourages commissioners, providers and practitioners to promote best practice in their organisations – and to take into account women’s individual and gender-specific needs.

Taskforce members heard from women who said that contact with mental health services could even at times be re-traumatising, for example through restraint or observations, often by male staff members.

Some women spoke of feeling unsafe in inpatient services, and at risk of sexual assault or harassment from both members of staff and patients – and where incidents occurred they felt that these were not always well responded to.

The report considers how women’s roles as mothers and carers often influences their needs but that is rarely taken into account in the care they receive; for example little provision is often given to women in need to help them maintain relationships with their children and wider family.

It also looks at how many women who have been victims of violence and abuse often feel ‘retraumatised’ by their time in inpatient facilities, often because of contact with male staff members, and looks at the factors facing women, such as experience of extensive violence, abusive relationships, poverty or inequality, which can influence their needs.

Other issues often affect women and girls more than men and boys – eating disorders are, for example, more common among women and girls than men and boys, and young women and girls are more at risk of self-harm.

And although young men are still more likely to take their own lives than young women, the suicide for young women aged 20-24 is currently the highest on record.

The report’s recommendations are that the Department of Health and Social Care alongside its Arm’s Length Bodies:

1 – Explicitly consider women’s needs in all future mental health policy development, locally and nationally;

2 – Further embed trauma-informed care by raising expectations across services and awareness across the system and developing the evidence base to demonstrate this value of these approaches;

3 – Support routine enquiry about violence and abuse in future policy development, including consideration of a requirement to gather and report data;

4 – Use the principles of the taskforce to inform service design and delivery so that there is better access for women and girls to gender-informed and gender-specific holistic services and after care, including through the women’s sector.

The taskforce would like to see such support accessible in every area, providing specialist treatment for women including those from diverse groups e.g. BAME, LBTQ+;

5 – Recognise that women’s identities, and often their roles as mothers and carers, are important in individual treatment and in-service planning. Awareness needs to be raised of this across the system; and

6 – Ensure the safety of women in residential mental health care by ending breaches of single sex wards and pursuing robust policy, practice and reporting processes around sexual harassment and sexual violence.

Jackie Doyle-Price said: “Women are more likely to experience common mental health conditions than men – this is particularly stark among young women, who are three times more likely than young men to experience a common mental disorder, such as anxiety or depression.

“Yet too often, we hear stories of women who describe feeling powerless when it comes to their mental health treatment, those who feel neglected by inadequate aftercare or, more alarmingly, those who feel at risk in inpatient services, whether that’s because of breaches in single sex wards or the fear of restraint or observations by male staff members.

“This just isn’t good enough.

“I’m determined that this report will take an important first step towards our aim of tackling the injustices facing women, while ensuring that no vulnerable woman slips through the net.

“I appeal to partners across the health, justice and social care systems to work together to drive forward our ethos and ensure that women receive the high-quality care they deserve,” she continued.

“Mental health is a top priority for this government and will be a key part of the upcoming Long-Term Plan for the NHS, which will help us drive the outcomes of this report forward.”

To read the full report, click here.

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