Mental health services across England are not adequately considering the needs of female mental health patients, according to the results of a Freedom of Information request released by Agenda today to launch Women in Mind their new Women’s Mental Health Campaign (Sunday 25 September).
The charity reports that only one NHS Mental Health Trust, out of 35 who responded, had a women’s mental health strategy. In every other trust, there was no strategy explicitly recognising women’s mental health needs.
In addition, just over half of responding trusts (18) had no policy on ‘routine enquiry’ (the practice of routinely asking female patients about experience of abuse), which is contrary to NICE guidelines.
The vast majority of trusts had no policies on offering proactive support to patients who disclose abuse beyond meeting their safeguarding responsibilities.
And only five services reported having a policy on actively offering female patients a choice of female care worker.
Agenda is highlighting the risks to female patients from a lack of gender-awareness in mental health trusts. Previous research has revealed that men and women face different mental health problems, expressed in different ways and rooted in different gendered experiences. (1) Women’s greater experiences of abuse, for example, are linked to higher rates of mental ill-health. Women often need a female care worker or a female-only care settings to feel safe enough to open up in therapy. Women need counselling and expert staff who understand sexual and physical abuse and trauma.
Best practice guidelines and previous national strategies (2) have also highlighted the need for a gender specific approach to mental health care for men and women.
Agenda is concerned that, by failing to consider the needs of women in service planning and delivery, Mental Health Trusts are not meeting women’s needs.
Katharine Sacks-Jones, Director of Agenda, said:
“Our mental health trusts are not adequately considering the needs of women.
“Too many women facing poor mental health bounce from crisis to crisis unable to get the help they need. The majority have experienced violence and abuse, and many report needing women-specific spaces to feel safe.
“That’s why we’re launching our Women in Mind campaign calling on Government and local mental health trusts to ensure women’s needs are taken into account in mental health strategies and services. And we want to see every female mental health patient asked about her experiences of abuse and violence as standard.”
Agenda is recommending:
- The soon to be appointed Mental Health Equalities Champion to have a focus on women’s mental health and champion a gender-focused approach across the treatment spectrum.
- A clinical lead for women’s mental health and a strategy in every local area, to take account of women’s needs. This includes the implementation of guidance on routine enquiry, the provision of gender-specific services, and including female patients in service design.
- Every female mental health patient to be asked about her experiences of abuse and violence as standard. This ‘routine enquiry’ should be accompanied by proper support for any abuse she has experienced.
#womeninmind will be calling for women’s needs, and in particular their experience of abuse and violence to be taken into account in policy, strategy and delivery.
Press contact: Lucie Russell, firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone: 07919 091090
 Hidden Hurt: Violence, abuse and wider disadvantage in the lives of women, DMSS Research for Agenda, 2016. The research builds on previous Department of Health funded analysis of data from the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (APMS) conducted by the Child and Women Abuse Studies Unit, DMSS and NatCen Social Research. Population patterns in violence, abuse and mental health in England, Scott, S; Williams, J; McNaughton Nicholls, C; Lovett, J; McManus, S (2015) NatCen: London. APMS
 Mainstreaming Gender and Women’s Mental Health: Implementation Guidance, Department of Health (2003)
Notes to editors
Agenda is an alliance of more than 60 organisations who have come together to campaign for change for women and girls at risk. We believe society is failing to adequately protect and support women and girls who face the most extensive violence, abuse, trauma and extreme inequality.
We are calling for systems and services to be redesigned with women and girls at their heart so that they can access the support they need to rebuild their lives and reach their full potential. www.weareagenda.org.
Methodology In April 2016, Agenda sent Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to all 57 mental health foundation trusts in England, asking how they consider women’s needs in their service planning and delivery, and how they encourage and support disclosures of past or current abuse by inpatients. We received responses from 35 trusts; 22 failed to reply.
The full briefing on the FOI results is available at https://weareagenda.org/women-in-mind/