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09 Nov 2021
by Emma Olsson

The gender-specific issues that every mental wellbeing strategy should consider

Some experts argue that the collective emotional effects of Covid-19 and subsequent lockdowns have triggered a workplace revolution in mental healthcare. But as it becomes more common for companies to create or freshen up their mental wellbeing strategies, it is important to highlight the gender-specific issues that impact employees.

 

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While anyone can suffer from depression, anxiety and other psychological issues, there are specific problems faced by women, trans and non-binary people that often require specialised care. They may even face discrimination when attempting to access this care, in addition to long waiting times that feel dispiriting and stressful.

Issues impacting women’s mental health

While men and women can experience the same mental health issues, there are areas in which both cis and transgender women may be placed at greater risk in the workplace and society. One in five women in England and Wales has been sexually assaulted since the age of 16, compared to one in 25 men. A women-specific mental wellbeing strategy needs to consider the ways gendered assault, harassment and bullying impact women at work, just as they would impact them in any aspect of life.

That is not to mention the sexual violence that can and does occur at work. More than half (52%) of women had faced unwanted sexual behaviours at work, from inappropriate jokes to touching. Creating a zero-tolerance policy towards sexual harassment and sticking to it is a necessary component to ensuring women feel safe at work. All leadership members – not just HR professionals – should also be trained to keep an eye out for sexual harassment and know how address it.

Women are more likely to be primary carers for children, loved ones with disabilities, or ageing family members, on top of their regular jobs. The pressure and expectations of caring for loved ones can place carers at a greater risk for stress and depression. As an employer, it is important to incorporate these additional pressures into your mental health and wellbeing strategy, allowing additional leave for caring duties or flexible working hours, for example.

The link between gynae health and mental health

Women, along with some trans and non-binary people, also face a myriad of gynaecological and hormonal health issues that impact mental health and should not be ignored at work. Menopause affects 3.5 million working women in the UK, and nearly 60% of them say it has negatively impacted their work. A workplace mental health strategy needs to shine a light on these issues. This could mean providing access to therapy, potential hormone replacement therapy (HRT), nutrition advice to decrease symptoms, flexible working hours and more.

Gynae health issues that cause chronic pain, such as endometriosis (which affects one in 10 women in the UK) also have a significant effect on mental health. People with endometriosis are twice as likely to experience depression. Both endometriosis and PCOS can also cause fertility issues that make family-planning a stressful and emotional experience. Offering support for the emotional toll these situations take can let your employers know that they are not alone, and perhaps offer them support that they have not been able to access elsewhere.

Access to care for trans and non-binary communities

LGBTQ+ individuals experience a greater incidence of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, suicidality and substance misuse than the majority population. Despite some positive change having occurred in regard to social attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community as well as significant legal changes, mental health statistics have stayed the same. Any company’s mental health strategy should address this inequality.

Research indicates that trans and other LGBTQ+ people also suffer due to a lack of support networks, particularly familial ones. Public services to address these problems are lacking. When accessing general healthcare services, 61% of trans people said they were asked questions about trans people that indicated a lack of knowledge from the healthcare provider.

For non-binary individuals, those who do not identify within the gender binary system, accessing any form of healthcare can be a minefield. One study found that 70% of non-binary or gender queer individuals expressed a need for gender-related counselling, with only 31% of them having access to psychological clinical services compared to 73% of trans individuals who fall along the gender binary.

Gender-affirming healthcare

Many researchers into trans and non-binary healthcare emphasise the importance of gender-affirming healthcare. This refers to a “non-pathologising” clinical approach, meaning someone’s gender identity will not be treated as a symptom of a mental health issue. Rather, all genders are validated, while the gender binary is rejected. While there is definitely an impetus put on social services to break down discriminatory practices and educate mental health professionals on gender, for companies, one way to streamline this process for employees is by providing access to gender-affirming mental health services. 

Trans and non-binary individuals generally have specific mental health needs not applicable to cisgender people, highlighting the shortcomings of a one-size-fits-all mental health strategy. This specialised care can include exploration of gender identity, which involves self-acceptance and potentially prep work for gender-affirming treatments and procedures. In addition to these areas, a mental health strategy should also include general issues that are possibly unrelated to gender identity, such as depression, anxiety, or substance abuse. It is important for trans and non-binary folks to have access to this general care in a way that does not patholigise their gender identity.

Addressing these needs will benefit both employers and employees: access to gender-specific mental health care will likely improve your employees’ experience at work, thus increasing job retention and creating a safe environment for all workers.

The author is Emma Olsson, content writer at Syrona Health.

This article is provided by Syrona Health.

In partnership with Syrona Health

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