We are unfortunately not bringing glad tidings of great joy this morning, as according to the results of the NHS led Health Survey for England, Britain is facing a general crisis of unhappiness, with increasing numbers of us reporting consistent feelings of unhappiness and mental health issues, and more of us taking antidepressants than ever . To make matters more bleak, women are more likely suffer from general unhappiness and mental health problems in every age bracket, until we reach the age of 85, at which point we start to feel more content. I don’t know about you, but waiting until my ninth decade to feel optimistic about life feels like a raw deal.
The survey asked 8,000 participants twelve questions relating to happiness and mental health, taking in topics such as depression , anxiety , sleep disorders and self-esteem. Ratings of more than four on a twelve point scale indicated a possible mental health problem, although formal diagnosis would of course be required, but the overall picture was that 19 per cent of respondents showed signs of suffering from a serious mental health issue, up by 25 per cent in four years. Young people and women come off worst, with 28 per cent of women aged between 16-24 reporting levels of low mood and impaired wellbeing that would constitute serious mental health illnesses, compared to 16 per cent of men. Things appear to briefly improve for women between the ages of 25 and 34, when 18 per cent of both men and women appear to suffer with mental health issues, but outlook worsens for women from then onwards, with 24 per cent of middle aged women showing concerning symptoms of mental illness.
Kate Lovett, Dean of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, told The Times that such levels of unhappiness amongst women are most probably linked to enduring social and cultural inequalities, with women “still more likely to bear the brunt of domestic and caring responsibilities”. Let’s throw in the matter that we’ve been working for free since the 10th of November thanks to the still gaping 14.1 per cent pay gap, not to mention the fact that we’re still fielding maternal discrimination , sexual harassment in the workplace on a scandalous global scale and regular sinister body shaming courtesy of the outlets such as the sidebar of shame.
There are disparities between male and female happiness when it comes to relationships too, as Dr Lovett explains:
“Men who are single, widowed or divorced are more vulnerable to developing depression and men who are in this age bracket may be more likely to be on their own. Paradoxically married women are often more likely to develop depression.”
Psychiatrists suggest that women only reach peak happiness at an age when they’re likely to be widowed, which is almost depressing news in itself, but it’s also thought that happiness levels rise in later life for women in particular as professional and caring responsibilities take a back seat.
a quarter of young people describe consistent feelings of worthlessness and low self-confidence
Analysts also estimate that it’s possible that women’s general status of unhappiness appears greater owing to the fact that women on the whole feel more comfortable discussing mental health, with mental health charity Mind confirming that more women than men both speak out about mental health problems and seek support, while the suicide rate for men is triple that of women.
It’s in younger age groups that experts, doctors and the government are most worried across the board, however, as youth mental illness has increased by almost 50 per cent since 2012. The fact that one in four women report self-harming, and a quarter of young people describe consistent feelings of worthlessness and low self-confidence, indicates that more needs to be done from a ground level to ensure the mental wellbeing of the next generation.
Charities state the effects of social media, a 24/7 “picture perfect” online culture, precarious economic climate, bullying and academic pressure as leading causes of the mental health epidemic amongst young people, with the sexualisation of young girls a key area of concern, and while none of the above are by any means easy to fix, growing levels of support, awareness and treatment resources for people in every walk of life suffering from mental health issues can only be a positive move towards both evening out the happiness stats and boosting the nation’s wellbeing as a whole.
The need to close the gender pay gap, stamp out sexual harassment and for tech companies and social media giants to step up to plate in terms of addressing and taking responsibility for acting on online abuse is now a public health issue. Add in a greater concentration on the importance of shared parental care from a young age and maybe tomorrow’s women won’t be waiting to roll into retirement before they can make merry.