Levels of anxiety higher among young women than seniors
Chris Enright, Jean Hailes’ head of education and knowledge exchange, said younger women may be more likely to seek help and be diagnosed with anxiety as speaking about mental illness becomes increasingly culturally acceptable.
But these formative years were also when the intense and competing pressures of work, relationships and having children could be most intense, compounded by ubiquitous social media messages of unattainable expectations of their physical appearance and lifestyles.
“For younger women there is a sense of everything needing to be done all the time and perfectly,” Ms Enright said. “We then see those feelings of anxiousness, inadequacy and loneliness play out.”
Roughly one-third of respondents reported not being able to stop or control their worrying every day, nearly every day or weekly, with women under 36 again most likely to be affected.
These younger women were the most likely to report having trouble concentrating (59.5 per cent), falling asleep, staying asleep or unsatisfying sleep, as well as being so restless that they struggled to sit still (33.7 per cent) and were easily annoyed (64 per cent) daily, almost every day or weekly.
They were also most likely to report feelings of loneliness (almost 40 per cent – more than 10 per cent higher than the average rate of 28.7 per cent across all respondents).
The findings gel with previous Australian data that suggests one in three Australian women will experience anxiety at some point in their lives, and rising rates of mental health problems among young women.
Grant Blashki, a GP and lead clinical advisor at beyondblue, said the large number of women he sees for mental health issues were grappling with a complex tangle of stressors.
“I’ll often come home at the end of a busy day in clinic and say to my wife, ‘it’s not easy being a young woman these days’,” Dr Blashki said.
“The social expectations on women are very high … We know women are still taking on the lion’s share of family responsibilities and in the workplace they are [often] still undervalued and underpaid.
“[Romantic] relationships have become more complex with the rapidly changing online world … and domestic and family violence is still a serious problem.”
The survey also found that one in six survey respondents reported experiencing discrimination in the healthcare system.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women were twice as likely to report experiencing discrimination compared to non-Indigenous women (35.1 per cent versus 15.5 per cent) or women with disability, who were three times more likely to report the same (45.1 per cent versus 15.5 per cent among women who did not report a disability).
Earlier this year the government unveiled its $50 million national Women’s Health Strategy, devised in consultation with Jean Hailes and other leading women’s health experts.
Mr Hunt said the survey would help guide all levels of government, peak bodies and services to improve the healthcare of Australian women and girls.
Kate Aubusson is Health Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald.