National Women's Health Policy

Marginalised women

Page last updated: 07 February 2011

Those women who are marginalised, as a consequence of discrimination and disadvantage, are at particular risk of experiencing mental ill-health and often face greater barriers to accessing services.

Studies based on data from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health indicate a strong association between poorer mental health and poorer socioeconomic conditions, particularly in terms of education and employment. Depressive symptoms have been found to be related to low income, low educational qualifications and a history of unemployment.192 193

For rural and remote women there was no significant inter-regional difference in the prevalence of anxiety in 2004–05, except for females aged 45–64 years living in other areas who were significantly less likely to experience anxiety than their major city counterparts.195

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have been found to be twice as likely as non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women to report high and very high levels of psychological distress.196 Higher rates of mental health issues among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women can be related to a cultural history of trauma and loss linked to the impact of colonisation and family removal. These women also continue to experience disadvantage, high levels of domestic violence and sexual abuse.197

For refugee and migrant women, the challenges of settling in a new country, and limited resources and financial insecurity can have a major impact on their mental health.198 For older migrant and refugee women, social isolation and difficulties in communicating outside their family circles can also affect their mental health.199

Minority sexual orientation is also associated with higher levels of mental health morbidity in Australian women. Over 34.8 per cent of lesbian and bisexual women had been diagnosed with depression by a doctor compared to 22.8 per cent of women in the general population. Almost one in five (19.3 per cent) lesbian and bisexual participants in a West Australian study reported current treatment for a mental health problem including anxiety, depression, and stress-related problems compared to 8.5 per cent of women in the general population.200 Stigmatisation, discrimination and lack of social support may play a role in explaining poorer mental health.201

Women as carers often report poorer physical, mental and emotional health and wellbeing because of their caring responsibilities. This can be associated with disturbed sleep, being physically injured while providing care, and the constant pressure of caring. Time spent caring, and coping strategies, are factors in shaping carer stress.202 Live-in carers also report lower levels of social support than non-live-in carers and non-carers. They also show poorer mental health scores, lower optimism scores, more stress, and are more likely to have seen their general practitioner than non-live-in carers or non-carers.203 Within the caring population, female carers in particular experienced much lower levels National Women’s Health Policy 2010 of mental health compared to both male carers and the general population. This included increased levels of clinical depression, with over 50 per cent of female carers reporting being depressed for six months or more since they started caring.204

Young women in custody and leaving custody are at particular risk of poor emotional and mental health.