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A new Victorian Women’s Mental Health Alliance has been established to advocate for a stronger focus on the mental health of women and girls.

The Alliance, made up of consumers, clinicians and community organisations, has been convened in the context of the Victorian Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System, where it has been identified there is an urgent need for an increased focus on the mental health of women and girls.

Members of the Alliance include mental health consumer bodies, women’s health organisations, family and sexual violence advocacy and support organisations, human rights bodies, mental health clinicians and researchers.

According to the Alliance Australian women experience poorer mental health outcomes than men on a range of measures. However, the high rates of poor mental health among women and girls, and the factors that put women and girls at risk, are not well-recognised.

The impact of gender on mental health manifests in a multitude of ways including through experiences of gender inequality, discrimination, gender stereotyping, sexualisation, sexual harassment, family violence and sexual violence, women’s disproportionate responsibility for unpaid caring work, economic disadvantage and the marginalisation of women’s health needs within the mental health service system.

“Women experience significantly higher rates of anxiety and depression than men. They are twice as likely to experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as men. Eating disorders are the third most common chronic illness in young women and have the highest mortality rate of all psychiatric illnesses,” Professor of Psychiatry at Alfred Health and Monash University, Jayashri Kulkarni said.

“Suicide is the leading cause of death for young women aged 15-24 and, alarmingly, the suicide rate among young women increased by 47% in the decade to 2016. Nearly 1 in 3 girls aged 16-17 have self-harmed. These statistics are unacceptable. Yet they are not well known.”

“We need to invest more in research focused specifically on women’s mental health. And we need to invest in upskilling mental health practitioners and mental health services so they understand and can respond to the specific mental health needs of women and girls,” continued Professor Kulkarni.