Sexism raises a woman’s risk of depression by THREE TIMES

Sexism ‘fuels depression’: Study finds women who have been threatened, called names or attacked because of their gender are THREE TIMES more at risk

  • Scientists from University College London analysed nearly 3,000 women 
  • Sexist remarks may make women feel unsafe, could put them off exercising
  • Exercising outdoors has been linked to improved mental wellbeing 

Women who believe they have been victims of sexism may be more likely to be depressed, research suggests.

Scientists from University College London asked nearly 3,000 women if they had ever been insulted, called names or physically attacked as a result of their gender.

They found those who reported being sexually discriminated against were more than three times more likely to describe themselves as depressed.

Young, wealthy, well-educated, white participants reported the most discrimination. 

Sexist remarks may make women feel unsafe, which could put them off exercising outdoors, despite its known mental health benefits, the team claim.

Repeated threats may even cause some to turn to ‘substances to cope with discriminatory experiences’, they added.

Women who believe they are victims of sexism may be more likely to be depressed (stock)

‘We found women who reported perceived sex discrimination were more likely to be depressed and have greater psychological distress, as well as poorer mental functioning, life satisfaction and self-rated health,’ lead author Dr Ruth Hackett said.

‘There are several possible explanations for the link between sexism and poorer mental health. 

‘Sexism may serve as a barrier to healthy lifestyles that promote mental wellbeing, for example, if women avoid exercising in settings they perceive to be unsafe or use substances to cope with discriminatory experiences.

‘Repeated exposure to stress may also lead to “wear and tear” that disrupts normal biological processes.’

While it is normal to feel down from time to time, people with depression may feel persistently unhappy for weeks or months on end.

Depression can affect anyone at any age and is fairly common – approximately one in ten people are likely to experience it at some point in their life. 

Depression is a genuine health condition which people cannot just ignore or ‘snap out of it’.

Symptoms and effects vary, but can include constantly feeling upset or hopeless, or losing interest in things you used to enjoy.

It can also cause physical symptoms such as problems sleeping, tiredness, having a low appetite or sex drive, and even feeling physical pain.

In extreme cases it can lead to suicidal thoughts.

Traumatic events can trigger it, and people with a family history may be more at risk.

It is important to see a doctor if you think you or someone you know has depression, as it can be managed with lifestyle changes, therapy or medication. 

Source: NHS Choices 

The scientists analysed 2,956 women over the age of 16 who took part in the UK Household Longitudinal Study between 2009 and 2010.

The women were asked if they had ever felt unsafe or avoided going out over the fear of sexist remarks. 

A fifth (19.5 per cent) claimed to have been discriminated against due to their gender.

These incidents most commonly occurred on the street (77 per cent), public transport (39.9 per cent), and in or around train and bus stations (38.9 per cent). 

Results – published in the journal Health Psychology – revealed of the women who reported sexual discrimination, 93.9 per cent claimed to feel unsafe.

And 38.1 per cent avoided going somewhere as a result of this prejudice, while 18.1 per cent were insulted by the sexist remarks they endured. 

When asked about their mental health, the women who felt they had experienced sexism reported being worse off.   

As well as being at a greater risk of depression, these women were also 26 per cent more likely to experience psychological distress.  

Further research is needed to understand why certain groups of females are more at risk, the scientists said. 

They claim few men report sexual discrimination and were therefore not included in the analysis. 

Dr Hackett has urged the UK to ‘legislate and catch up with other European countries where street harassment already is illegal’. 

Senior author Dr Sarah Jackson added: ‘The issue of sex discrimination is one that has garnered increasing attention over recent years in the wake of the Me Too movement.

‘Our results are particularly concerning in suggesting an enduring impact of experiences of sex discrimination on mental health and wellbeing.

‘They underscore the importance of tackling sexism not only as a moral problem but one that may have a lasting legacy on mental health.’ 

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