Spotlight on women’s mental health at report launch
Published: 6 December, 2017
Black Dog Institute Director Professor Helen Christensen joined NSW Minister for Women and Mental Health, the Hon. Tanya Davies, on Wednesday at a panel event launching the Women in NSW Report Series 2017: Health and Wellbeing.
The report presents the latest snapshot of women’s health across key measures, including obesity and overweight, cancer, maternal health and psychological health.
“To achieve their physical, social and economic potential, women need opportunities to be healthy at every stage of their lives,” said NSW Minister for Women and Mental Health, the Hon. Tanya Davies.
“However, there are many social determinants of health which affect women, such as socioeconomic status, adverse life events, health literacy, domestic and family violence, living in a regional or remote location and social isolation.”
While the report reveals improvements for women’s health in many areas – including increased physical activity rates and a halving of the number of female smokers since 2002 – several mental health indicators remain a concern.
The report shows one in five young women aged 16-24 years report high or very high levels of psychological distress (21.6%). Proportionately, women in outer regional, remote or very remote areas, or those from non-English speaking backgrounds, were more likely to report high or very high psychological distress.
There has also been a continuing upward trend in hospitalisations of young women resulting from intentional self-harm in recent years. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women had a higher hospital admission rate for intentional self-harm, at over three times that of non-Aboriginal women (164.5 per 100,000).
Professor Helen Christensen said the proportion of women facing traumatic life stressors is higher than men, which could contribute to more women experiencing anxiety and depression.
“We have to remember that women on average experience more trauma, sexual violence; they’re always worse off in wars, refugee status and so on,” she said.
“Trauma-based experiences really set you up to become more vulnerable to anxiety and depression later on in life.”
With women’s risk of deliberate self-harm remaining troubling high, a holistic and community-based approach to suicide prevention is imperative to help tackle the issue, according to Professor Christensen.
Black Dog Institute has developed LifeSpan, an evidence-based systems approach to suicide prevention which is being tested in four NSW communities as part of Australia’s largest scientific suicide prevention trial.
“In order to reduce suicide, you need to have a multidimensional factorial model that brings together a whole range of community and health interventions and puts these on the ground in a regional area,” Professor Christensen said.
“Activities required in these regional areas include ensuring appropriate aftercare cover for people following a suicide attempt; offering proper treatment; doing gatekeeping training for the community; ensuring school-based programs actually work; and educating the community and raising awareness around what people can do.
“It can’t be a top-down thing run through a health department – it’s about empowering communities to work together to find solutions that work within this broader framework.”
Fellow panellists included:
- Professor Julie Byles, Director, Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health
- Pauline DeWeerd, Director, Aboriginal Health, St Vincent’s Health Network
- Dr Jo Mitchell, Executive Director, Centre for Population Health, NSW Ministry of Health
The full Women in NSW Report Series 2017: Health and Wellbeing is available here.