Policies must tackle the crisis in young women’s mental health

Theresa May claims that “in tough times, everyone has to take their share of the pain.” Yet, as has sadly become the norm, those taking more than their share are the most vulnerable in society: the poor, the young, minorities, and women.

Young people are facing increasing financial insecurities, not helped in the least by rising tuition fees and fears over Brexit. Young women are the worst affected – research from the Young Women’s Trust’s found that 39 per cent of women said they struggled to make their cash last to the end of the month, compared to 27 per cent of men.

Women are consistently more likely to face money problems, workplace discrimination and worries about the future. More disturbingly, women were also more likely to be paid under minimum wage, to be offered zero-hour contracts, and to feel worried about their job security. This is especially unsettling alongside other gendered financial inequalities, from the pay gap to the tampon tax.

Unsurprisingly, these problems are proving detrimental to young people’s mental health. Over half of young people say that they worry about the future, and a third believe their mental health has deteriorated since the Brexit vote.

Again the biggest problems are faced by women; 38 per cent of young women said they feel worried about their mental health (compared to 29 per cent of men). Tragically, almost half of young women said they felt “worn-down”, with only a third describing themselves as “optimistic”. Young people, especially women, are suffering through what should be the best time of their lives; the years which should be full of carefree optimism and excitement for the future are being tainted by anxiety and uncertainty.

The Conservative government appear unwilling to address these alarming findings, arguing that “female employment is at a record high.” However, numbers say nothing about women’s treatment in the workplace, the respect they receive and crucially, their mental state.

After decades of fighting to hold an equal position in society, women are still consistently underpaid and undervalued. This mistreatment can only lead to a decrease in women’s productivity and career aspirations, not to mention society’s attitude towards women. As the Young Women’s Trust’s study found, many young people believe we are decades away from reaching gender equality, and some believe it is unlikely ever to be achieved.

Alongside women, those worst affected by mental health issues are members of ethnic monorities and the most deprived socio-economic groups. It is a sad fact, but surely no coincidence, that those worst affected are also the least represented in government, and already face discrimination in many other areas of society.

The figures are heart-breaking. But when the causes are both numerous and deep-rooted, a solution is often difficult to identify. The onus is on the government to do more to address the practical aspects of caring for women in work – ensuring fair pay, monitoring employers, and protecting women from discrimination at work.

Focus on the treatment of mental health problems is vital in tackling these issues, particularly for young women – yet recent cuts to the NHS suggest this isn’t a priority.

Vitally, attitudes need to change because prejudice only breeds more prejudice. Without respect, without happiness, without self-worth, how can we expect women and minorities to find fulfilment in society and to ever break free of the stereotypes which have restricted them for so long?

For now at least, it seems that financial stability, job security, and even mental health are privileges, and ones which we are losing.

Image: bm_Adverts via flikr

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