Wera Hobhouse highlights women’s mental health

Yesterday, Wera Hobhouse led a Commons debate on women’s mental health.

Before the debate, she wrote for Politics Home about the responsibility MPs have to strengthen these vital services:

Whether it’s desperation over housing, Universal Credit, or Personal Independence Payments, the numbers of people struggling have increased dramatically, exacerbating mental health issues.

And for women, these problems are increasing.

More women – one in five – experience common mental health disorders like anxiety and depression compared with men, according to the charity Agenda, the alliance for women and girls at risk.

Young women are even more vulnerable with 26 percent at risk of these kinds of mental health problems — three times more than young men.

She outlined why it’s so important to make sure women have access to treatment for eating disorders at an early stage:

Many health professionals still reach for the scales when faced with an eating disorder, despite existing guidelines clearly advising against solely using weight for a diagnosis. Girls are turned away even when they are clearly suffering because they aren’t ‘thin enough’.

For over a year, I have been campaigning to #DumpTheScales – demanding shorter waiting times for adult sufferers and more education in medical schools around these deadly disorders.

We need to treat eating disorders as a mental health issue, not just a physical health issue.

And she looked at why women find it difficult to seek help for mental ill health:

A mother may be afraid to ask for help if she fears her children could be taken away. Services often fail to recognize the trauma that women experience through separation from their children, for example through extended stay in medical facilities.

We must think about what models work to support the wellbeing and mental health of women who are carers and mothers.

Mental health is complicated, and we don’t have all the answers yet. However, only by having open conversations about the problems can we can find lasting solutions.

Ultimately, as an MP, my colleagues and I have a responsibility to identify these solutions and safeguard them in law.

Only through strong laws can we build a society where equality, and wellbeing, is guaranteed for everyone.

You can watch her speech here. Unfortunately, the embedding was not working at the time of writing.

Here’s the text of her speech with the interventions:

I beg to move,

That this House notes with concern the rise in mental ill health among women, with one in five now experiencing common mental disorders and young women the most at-risk group; recognises that women’s mental health problems are often rooted in experiences of violence and abuse; believes that mental health services often fail to respond to women’s specific needs, including their experiences of trauma; calls on the Government to ensure that the gender- and trauma-informed principles of the Women’s Mental Health Taskforce are adopted by mental health services and that women’s mental health needs, including their experience of violence and abuse, are prioritised and taken seriously in all mental health policy, strategy and delivery.

Constituents often come to us at their lowest point, and we see them going through anxiety, depression and trauma. Poor mental health affects not only the individual, but everybody around them. Women are far more likely to experience serious mental health issues. Young women are at the greatest risk, with one in five having self-harmed and 13% having been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Over the course of this Parliament, there has been a great deal of talk in this House about mental health, which is progress, but the opportunity to discuss women’s specific needs when it comes to mental health services has been limited. Ten months after the publication of the final report of the Women’s Mental Health Taskforce, little has changed. There is a long way to go before our mental health services work for women. There is an obligation on Government to step in and respond to the growing crisis in women’s mental health with a substantive policy.

Jeff Smith (Manchester, Withington) (Lab)

I very much welcome the work of the Women’s Mental Health Taskforce, its report, and the principles laid out in it. Does the hon. Lady share my concern that those principles will not be effectively implemented unless there are clear targets and concrete commitments from the Government, and that the next stage needs to be a full strategy on women’s mental health, with those targets and commitments in it?

Wera Hobhouse

I could not agree more. We need a strategy. More than half of women who experience mental ill health have a history of abuse, meaning that their conditions are rooted in experiences of gender-based violence. In yesterday’s moving debate, we heard many harrowing examples of that. We have a long way to go if we are to change the whole culture around domestic violence and treat its consequences. When it comes to treatment, we must ensure that frontline mental health services for women are trauma-informed. There is a legal framework that we could use; it is called the Istanbul convention. We signed up to it back in 2012, but so far we have failed to bring it into domestic law.

One consequence is that we do not have enough rape crisis centres across the country. Earlier this year, Fern Champion, a survivor of sexual violence, came forward after being turned away by her local rape crisis centre. She launched a petition asking the Government to ​ratify the Istanbul convention, which has so far received 171,000 signatures. It is hard to suggest that we can do the groundwork to support women and their mental health challenges effectively when there are fewer than 100 rape crisis centres across England and Wales. This is simply not good enough if we are to support women effectively and prevent them from developing serious mental health problems after suffering abuse. Ratifying the Istanbul convention would mean that the UK was upholding international standards on survivors’ rights.

Earlier this year, I tabled a Bill that would guarantee mothers a health check-up six weeks after giving birth. Depression before, during and after birth is a serious condition that is unrecognised and untreated for nearly half of new mothers who suffer from depression. Statistics suggest that mothers are afraid to speak up, and 47% of new mothers get less than three minutes to discuss their mental health with a healthcare professional. Conversations about the reality of motherhood and perinatal depression are still few and far between. This is a huge problem—and not just for the mother; undiagnosed mental health problems in mothers have serious consequences for the newborn child and their development.

I have been campaigning for better treatment of eating disorders. Eating disorders disproportionately affect women, although they do not discriminate. Women in the LGBTQ community are particularly susceptible.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con)

I am absolutely in accord with the hon. Lady. Before she gets off the subject of perinatal illness, she will agree, I am sure, that it is a shocking statistic that in the UK, suicide is the leading cause of direct maternal deaths occurring within a year of the end of pregnancy. Perinatal mental illness can actually lead to a loss of life among mothers. We need to do so much better for them in those early mental health checks.

Wera Hobhouse

Absolutely. Post-natal depression is hidden, and the NCT’s “Hidden Half” campaign addresses that. Anyone who has been a parent knows that parenthood is not easy. Probably all mothers go through some form of depression, or feel really down after birth. I keep saying that if anybody had asked me how I felt, I would probably have said, “Oh God, I am not feeling particularly well.” The problem is in not addressing that early on, because these things can develop into something much more serious. That is why it is very important that there be a check-up six weeks after birth for women, not just for the newborn child.

Jeff Smith

I thank the hon. Lady for giving way again; she is being very generous. A number of my constituents have been in touch about perinatal check-ups. My constituent Catherine told me of her experience:

“I asked for a 6 week check with a GP—this was, at best, brief. Physical symptoms were looked at, but nothing was checked with regards to my mental health. There needs to be a standard physical and mental health check for ALL new mothers.”

Does the hon. Lady agree that we need to do better?

Wera Hobhouse

Yes indeed. I talk to campaigners, who are now looking at the new general practitioner contracts that are going out. That is definitely a way forward, but we also need to ensure adequate training, because people have to ask the right questions. The issue is sort of stigmatised; everybody thinks, “You’re a ​new mum—you should be on top of the world.” Nobody really wants to admit that motherhood can be very difficult, and that one does not always feel great. We need training, so that when new mums come in, they are asked the right questions.

Going back to eating disorders, they have the highest mortality rate of all mental health conditions. There are about a million sufferers from eating disorders. That is an epidemic of illness that is going undiagnosed and untreated. We must do much better. Our NHS is not well equipped to spot the problem early and treat it. Waiting times for adults have been shooting up over the last few years. Outdated methods, such as the body mass index measurement, are still being used to diagnosis the condition, but that fails to recognise that at the core of an eating disorder is a mental health, not a physical health, problem. Despite increasing public and professional awareness of eating disorders, medical students receive only two hours of training in the condition and its treatment during their entire time in medical school.

Those are just a few examples of where our NHS does not work for women’s mental health. We need a strategy. The Women’s Mental Health Taskforce did some extremely important work, but its recommendations have been left on the shelf. A Government strategy would help individual trusts to make the changes required to implement the recommendations. The Liberal Democrats have championed the fight for better mental health care for many years, and we believe that mental and physical health should be supported equally by our services. I have highlighted a few areas where women’s mental health provision could be improved, and I am looking forward to the debate and to the Minister’s response.

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5 Comments

  • There are a few issues that Wera Hobhouse might want to consider that might alter her outlook and sense of priority here.

    Firstly, there is plenty of evidence that GPs (where the bulk of mental health problems are encountered and managed) are far more likely to diagnose a female patient with a mental health problem (usually an anxiety and/or depression diagnosis) than a man presenting with the same situation and even scoring the same on standardised mental health screen tools. So female patients are over-diagnosed in comparison to male patients.

    Secondly, men with mental health problems are far less likely to seek help and present their problem. So men are far more likely never to come onto the radar than women, hence underdiagnosis.

    This comparative under and over-diagnosis distorts the data and subsequent statistics that Wera is relying on to form her opinion and set her priorities.

    Unfortunately the current set up is for mental health services to deal with and manage mental illness (i.e zero scope for preventative medicine and stopping people developing mental illnesses in the first place, and this preventative approach is pretty much absent from Public Health bodies too).

    Suicide rate is a crude marker for the effectiveness of a mental health services in managing a population’s mental health, with suicide obviously representing an extreme end-point system failure. Men are 4 times more likely to commit suicide than women. Whilst there are some other factors to take into account, this disproportionately higher rate points to the mental health system disproportionately failing men far more than it fails women. Hence why in my opinion Wera has got her priorities all wrong here. Not saying Eating Disorder and PND are not important issues, just pointing out where the much bigger objective failure is, and it’s not what she is prioritising

  • Oh dear, oh dear. Our party has done so much in recent years to push for more resources for mental healthcare. Norman Lamb was notable in his efforts. The simple truth is that we need better provision for ALL people with mental health problems, whatever their age, gender, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation. We do have a tendency to want to see every issue through the prism of sectional interests.

  • We would lessen the load on health services if we changed our attitude to our fellow citizens. There is no possible reason why people in our country should not have somewhere to live, enough food the ability to keep warm and so on. When people are depressed under these circumstances they are not clinically depressed they are showing a natural human reaction to their situation.
    The cure is simple and cheap. As a society we proved everyone with the enough to live on. This was the basis of what appeared to be a consensus in the immediate post war years. We have gone backwards over the years.

  • @Chris Cory
    “””””We do have a tendency to want to see every issue through the prism of sectional interests”””””

    Very strongly agree. And I’d like to add that this tendency is very toxic and corrosive to society. It’s about dividing society along all sorts of “sectional” and “intersectional” lines, then pitting them against eachother in a new and even more monstrous “politics of envy” scenario.

    It used to just be left to the Labour Party and regressive left sections of the society to lay the ground for the “class war” along socioeconomic lines. In recent decades not only have the Labour Party and regressive left opened up new fronts in dividing the country, now along racial lines (re-igniting nativist instincts within the caucasian majority that has been eagerly capitalised on by the nationalist right) and later gender, but sadly some within the Liberal Democrats have jumped onto this populist bandwagon abandoning a key value of liberalism, that is to view people first and foremost as each being a unique individual

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