High levels of anxiety, depression symptoms found among Aussie women

The Jean Hailes Women’s Health Survey 2020 has uncovered some shocking statistics on wellbeing, mental health and domestic violence during year of Covid, bushfires

Jean Hailes for Women’s Health has launched its sixth annual national survey with Health Minister Greg Hunt this month.

Many women reported experiencing health-related challenges over the past 12 months, with results particularly poor for women with a disability.

Of 9361 responses, 6218 were analysed and weighted by researchers led by Professor Gita Mishra at the School of Public Health, University of Queensland, to deliver more nationally representative results.

Almost 20% of women aged 18-44 reported that they could not afford to see a health professional when they needed to.

This figure rose to nearly 40% of women with a disability who said they could not afford healthcare when they needed it over the past year, compared to 11.9% of women without a disability. LGBTIQ women were also more likely to report difficulty affording healthcare (24.1% vs 14.1% of non LGBTIQ).

Nearly a third of women with a disability (32.7%) said they could not get a medical appointment when they needed one, as did nearly a third (31.1%) of women in rural and remote regions.

Meanwhile one in four (27.6%) young women aged 18-24 did not know where to go to access health services.

Mental health issues rife

The impact of COVID-19 and the bushfires during 2020 have taken their toll on the mental health and wellbeing of Australian women.

In the two weeks prior to taking the survey, one in three women (33.2%) reported feeling anxious. One in four reported feeling depressed (28.7%). Among women aged 18-24, one in two reported feeling anxious (55.2%), two in five reported feeling depressed (41.9%) and one out of three (36.8%) reported feeling both.

Respondents who identified as women with a disability (31.5% vs 20.8% of those with no disability) and LGBTIQ (40.2% vs 19.8% of non LGBTIQ) were more likely to have both anxiety and depression.

“The level of psychological distress revealed in these findings is of public concern and is similar to that found in national surveys of mental health during COVID restrictions,” said Professor Jane Fisher AO from the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at Monash University.

“These very valuable data will enable us to identify those who are most vulnerable and to understand what aspects of their lives might be able to be changed to improve their mental health.”

Physical health has also been affected by the crises of the past year. A third of respondents (33.6%) reported that their health was worse than before COVID-19, and one in five women (20.4%) reported feeling physically affected by bushfire smoke.

Meanwhile half of women with a disability (49.2%) said their health was ‘poor or very poor’, compared to 10.5% of those with no disability.

‘Alarmingly high prevalence’ of domestic violence  

Of women in a relationship or in contact with an ex-partner in the past 12 months, one in four (23.9%) had experienced some forms of intimate partner violence. One fifth (19.5%) of women experienced emotional abuse and one in 10 women reported having a controlling partner.

“The data reveal that women experience multiple forms of violence in their relationships despite national efforts to reduce and prevent it. These data reveal an alarmingly high prevalence,” said Professor Fisher.

“Stereotypically we think that all violence is the physical act, whereas the most common forms of violence experienced by women are emotional abuse and controlling behaviours,” she said.

“These are very harmful things to experience in intimate relationships and as the survey has shown, these behaviours are much more common than has been generally believed.”

Reports of controlling partners was higher among women with a disability (18.9%).

“This survey demonstrates that for women with disability the results are particularly poor when compared to the results for those without disability, and again highlights the well documented ongoing disadvantage they face daily,” said Ross Joyce, CEO, Australia Federation of Disability Organisations.

“These results are a disgrace and we all need be held accountable to do more and address these key health issues for all women and for women with disability in particular,” he said.

Minister Hunt said the findings would help the Federal Government to “frame the next steps in our long-term National Women’s Health Strategy to 2030.”

Jean Hailes pointed out some limitations of their survey, including that participants needed to be English literate (or have access to an interpreter) and computer literate; and those who consented to take part were likely to be motivated and health conscious.

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