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Sexism and depression: a new study has revealed the damaging impact experiences of sexism have on our mental health

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Lauren Geall
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Sexism and depression: a new study has revealed the damaging impact sexism has on our mental health

Experiences of sexism can have a long-term detrimental impact on the mental health of young women, according to a new study.

We may have come a long way when it comes to gender equality in this country, but experiences of sexism – including instances of street harassment and derogatory comments in the workplace – are still rife within our society. Whether women are being sexually harassed on flights or being referred to by sexist pet names in the office, experiences of sexism remain an all-too-common part of being a woman in 2019.

And while that fact in itself is particularly alarming, new research has revealed the extent to which sexism is damaging the mental health of young women, both short and long term.

According to a new survey from the Young Women’s Trust, young women who experience sexism are five times more likely to suffer from clinical depression. The study, which was conducted by the Young Women’s Trust in partnership with University College London, compared the mental health of women who have experienced sexism to those who said they had not experienced it. 

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The study, which surveyed 2,995 women between the ages of 16-93 about their experiences of sexism, revealed that women between the ages of 16-30 are most likely to experience sexism. And that’s not the worse part: those women aged 16-30 who had reported experiences of sexism – including attacks and threats because of their gender – were most likely to report mental health problems four years later.

The study defined sexism as feeling unsafe, avoiding going to or being in a place, being insulted and/or threatened or being physically attacked because of one’s sex.

“This study shows a clear and damaging link between sexism and young women’s mental health,” explains Sophie Walker, chief executive of the Young Women’s Trust. “While women of all ages continue to experience sexism, this research shows that it is young women who are most affected.

“What too often is dismissed as young women lacking confidence is in reality a crisis in mental health caused by a sexist society. Sexism is deeply affecting young women’s lives, their economic freedom and their health.”

Sexism and depression: new research has revealed young women who experience sexism are five times more likely to develop clinical depression.
Sexism and depression: new research has revealed young women who experience sexism are five times more likely to develop clinical depression.

The study also revealed that more than four in five of the women who had reported experiencing sexism had specifically been subjected to street harassment. 

Earlier this year, a cross-party group of MPs from the Women and Equalities Committee called on the UK government to take action to address the issue of street harassment across the country, after a nine-month inquiry found that harassment was so widespread and “relentless” that it became “normalised” for girls as they grew up.

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The evidence from this new research is clear: sexism is more than just a minor issue which lies underneath the surface of our society, it’s a deeply damaging and problematic phenomenon which needs to be addressed.

“We need to prevent mental health impacts continuing for years into young women’s adult lives,” Walker adds. “As one of our Advisory Panel Members highlighted in the report, ‘sexism sits in the core of you and if you try and ignore it and don’t address it, it rots away and the problems permeate to other areas of your life’.” 

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Lauren Geall

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