“Mental health is a state of well being in which the individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to his or her own community”

— World Health Organisation

Struggling with your mental health — which can be caused by feelings of stress, grief, suicidal thoughts or anything in between — has an unwarranted stigma. Those dealing with mental health challenges are made to feel judged, isolated, “weird”, or abnormal, and those who have never been affected can feel unnerved by those who are struggling and uncertain as to how to handle the topic. Truth is: around one in four people in the UK are affected by mental ill-health in some way, so it’s incredibly important to educate everyone and destigmatize the topic of mental health in society as a whole.

Those with mental health challenges are hardly in the minority: 46% of girls and young women in the UK aged between 11-21 have sought treatment for a mental health condition including anxiety, depression and eating disorders, making young women the highest risk-group for mental illnesses in the UK. Alongside academic and financial pressures – which affect people’s mental health generally – young women are more susceptible to broader external pressures including body image complexes (encouraged by a proliferation of glorified, dangerously thin bodies and unhealthy lifestyles in the media), sexual discrimination, misogyny and sexual violence.

Mental health issues affect the way you think, feel and behave, oftentimes resulting in an overwhelming sense of hopelessness, despair and frustration. Mental ill health can feel just as bad as physical illness, and unfortunately in many cases worse. Severely bad mental health days can result in things becoming difficult to cope with; an upsetting, confusing and frightening experience no one should have to experience, especially alone.

You don’t have to have a breakdown to ‘qualify’

Acknowledging that you do not feel right within yourself is a crucial step for anyone, regardless of their experience with mental ill-health. Many people do not talk about their concerns or feelings with someone or seek medical advice because they do not believe what they are experiencing is ‘serious enough’ to qualify as an issue worth discussing. The first lesson we should all be taught in life is that we are valid and our feelings are valid. You do not need to pass a test to be worthy of support and empathy. Everyone on this planet should feel comfortable and worthy enough to speak of their feelings to someone, and they are worthy of being cared for and treated.

It is extremely important to acknowledge that mental ill-health exists on a spectrum, and unrealistic, dramatised media representations of mental health conditions in films and TV shows can often culminate in people isolating themselves from issues they may be experiencing, and writing them off as ‘not as severe as’ the representations they’ve seen. They thus, detrimentally, disassociate their experiences from mental ill-health as a whole and do not seek the help they need, leaving them at risk of allowing the issue to manifest without treatment.

Whilst most people are aware of stereotypical portrayals of renowned mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and anorexia, they may not be aware of sub-classes of these illnesses which they may be experiencing that are equally as dangerous, but not so well known. These include, for instance, high-functioning depression, exercise bulimia, avoidant personality disorder or panic disorder. Remember: it is never too early to seek help, and nothing about how you are feeling is trivial enough to disqualify you from talking about it.

Mental Health Crisis among Young Women & Femmes

In 2017 the NHS released new data which revealed the number of times a girl aged 17 or under has been admitted to hospital in England because of self-harm has increased by 68% over the past decade (from 10,500 to 17,500). The sharp increase in rates of stress, anxiety and depression amongst teenage girls presents a deeply worrying trend, and at this current time, the NHS, schools, further and higher education institutions and companies have expressed concerns that they do not have access to all the resources they need to adequately tackle this worrying problem.

There are an increasing number of academic studies which reveal soaring mental ill-health rates among teenage girls, young women and femmes over the past 10 years, relating to body complex issues, insecurity and low-self esteem, particularly related to their appearance. Evidence suggests that girls start to internalise anxieties about their appearance from the age of 11 (and in some cases, younger) which, around a year later, could potentially develop into a mental health problem.

Whilst conducted according to a gender-binary, the research undertaken by the NCS-R (National Comorbidity Survey Replication) in 2005 (updated 2007) revealed differences in the mental health between these genders, ultimately highlighting a crucial need for the acceleration of sociologically inclusive, gender-fluid based research on mental health and supports the argument for individualistic approaches to mental health treatment and management.

The research reported the following:

  1. Major depressive disorders affect 20% of women, 13% of men

  2. Panic disorders affect 6% of women, 3.1% of men

  3. Women suffer PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) at more than two times the rate of men at 9.7% vs. 3.6%.

  4. Women represent 90% of all eating disorder cases (eating disorders having the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses)

  5. Men have higher rates of impulse-control disorders, with nearly 20% of men suffering from alcohol abuse compared to 7.5% women and 11.6% of men suffering from drug abuse compared to 4.8% of women.

  6. Men commit suicide at nearly four times the rate of women, yet women attempt suicide roughly two to three times as often as men.

These statistics are not intended to pitch one group of people against another, nor to insinuate one is more important. All these cases are equally significant, but these figures explain our current focus as an organisation on young women and femmes. Whilst we as an organisation can only speak from our own experiences as women and femmes, we do encourage all Rebelles to use this information not only to help themselves and to feel less alone, but also to understand why men are also struggling with their mental health. We hope that once they feel empowered enough in themselves that they can use this knowledge to support others, and ultimately help eradicate the stigma surrounding mental ill-health which is taking the lives of tens of thousands of young men around the world as well.

Types of Mental Health Problems

There are many types of mental health problems out there, so we at Fearless Femme thought it would be useful to describe a few of those which affect young women the most. As we are not trained or qualified psychologists or psychiatrists, we are unable to give detailed information or medical advice on each condition, but we will provide a link at the end of each description to an NHS or specialist site where you can read more about the disorder should you wish to learn more.

Depression

Depression is much more than being in a low mood or feeling sad: it’s a debilitating mental anguish which impacts the simplest of everyday tasks, and potentially impacts your social life, work, relationships or education. Talking about it, however, can be life-saving. Many of us here at Fearless Femme have lived with depression, and we know from experience that it can be lived with, conquered and managed. We cannot recommend the Blurt Foundation enough for their fantastic website and resources and would highly encourage you to check them out. We also recommend that you explore the NHS (National Health Service) pages on clinical depression, and their useful depression self-assessment tool.

Anxiety Problems

Anxiety is something pretty much everyone experiences in life: it’s the feeling we get when we are worried, afraid or nervous, particularly about the future. It’s an evolutionary fight or flight response we developed for survival; but it becomes a mental health issue when it impacts your ability to live your life. Prolonged periods of feeling anxious which feel uncontrollable or distressing, panic attacks, and a need to completely avoid situations of experiences which cause you to feel anxious can all indicate an anxiety issue. We’d highly recommend Anxiety UK’s website for more information about all anxiety conditions, advice and support. The NHS also have helpful information and tools to help you figure out if you have an anxiety disorder.

Eating Disorders

The biggest misconceptions about eating disorders are a) they are just about food and b) they are just about wanting to be skinny. The reasons behind every kind of eating disorder is complex and individualistic, which makes them very difficult to understand for the sufferer, their immediate family and friends, and medical professionals. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all mental health conditions and require immediate treatment and support. A personal recommendation from one of the team members of Fearless Femme is Anorexia & Bulimia Care website; a brilliant resource for those suffering and their immediate family and friends. As always, the NHS also offers excellent help and advice.

PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)

A branch of anxiety, PTSD, is very common among young women who have experienced traumatic events such as physical and sexual assault, miscarriage, bereavement, prolonged bullying or traumatic childbirth. The traumatic experience can for some create a memory filing error which causes the sufferer to experience the same fear, horror and helplessness they felt at the time when triggered by the memory. Evidence suggests that 70% of people in the UK with PTSD do not receive any professional help in their lifetime. It’s important to recognise that this problem is not something you should have to live with and it is worth being treated. We’d highly recommend taking a look at PTSD UK’s website and getting in contact with someone should you feel this is something you are having to deal with. Furthermore, the NHS has some excellent resources on identifying and managing PTSD.

References

www.hcp.med.harvard.edu/ncs/ftpdir/table_ncsr_LTprevgenderxage.pdf

Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US). Suicide Facts at a glance (2015): www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/suicide-datasheet-a.pdf

World Report on Violence and Health By Etienne G. Krug, World Health Organization

Galson, Steven K. “MENTAL HEALTH MATTERS.” Public Health Reports (1974-), vol. 124, no. 2, 2009, pp. 189–191. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25682191.

NHS 2017 Mental Health Research report: www.nhs.uk/news/mental-health/many-teenagers-reporting-symptoms-depression/