National Women's Health Policy

Mental health and wellbeing

Page last updated: 07 February 2011

Women are disproportionately affected by mental illness, and mental disorders have been estimated to represent the highest burden of illness for adult women in Australia.167 Recent research has found that:

  • Females were more likely than males to have experienced mental disorders in the 12 months before the survey (22.3 per cent compared to 17.6 per cent).168
  • The 12-month prevalence of depression was 6.8 per cent in women and 3.4 per cent in men.169
  • The 12-month prevalence of anxiety was 12.1 per cent in women and 7.1 per cent inmen.170
  • Women are more likely to make suicide plans and attempt suicide than men, but males are more likely to die by suicide.171
Viewing mental health through a gender lens reveals differences in the prevalence and course of mental illness for women, and differences in the impact of social factors in the causation of illness in women and men.172 For these reasons, women’s mental health and wellbeing continues to be a key priority for this policy. A range of social factors may contribute to women’s higher rates of anxiety and depression. These include: higher levels of socioeconomic disadvantage and poverty, lower income and lower participation in the paid workforce; higher exposure to discrimination and harassment, intimate partner and sexual violence; and the burden of caring responsibilities—all of which generally relate to gender, affecting women more than men.

Studies based on data from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health support the reported strong association between poorer mental health and poorer socioeconomic conditions, particularly in terms of education and employment among middle-aged Australian women.173 Similarly in young women, depressive symptoms have been found to be related to low income, low educational qualification and a history of unemployment.174

Physical and sexual abuse during childhood has also been linked with a range of later mental health problems including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, somatisation disorders and suicide.175