Women’s Health Guide: Mental Health

Mental health concerns among women have spiked. Various responsibilities and social inequities like financial and food insecurity make women more susceptible to developing a mental health issue relative to their male counterparts.

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December 07, 2022

Women make up a large part of our workforce and are lagging behind in some health outcomes. To address this equity issue, employers should address the variety of wellness needs of women through various programs and benefits.

During their lifespan, women are 50% more likely to experience depressive and anxiety disorders than men, and both depressive and anxiety disorders are the leading mental health issues experienced by women.14 In 2021, a global study found that women across more than 100 countries felt negative emotions on the day before they were surveyed (Figure 2.1).5 Countries where women experienced the lowest emotional health were strikingly also countries that had a large amount of political or economic strife in 2021 (i.e., Afghanistan and Lebanon) (Table 2.1).5

Figure 2.1: Women's Negative Emotions Reported Day Before Survey 
Figure 2.1: Women's Negative Emotions Reported Day Before Survey
Table 2.1: Country Rankings on Women’s Emotional Health  
Table 2.1: Country Rankings on Women’s Emotional Health

Basic needs like food and financial security significantly contribute to mental health challenges such as depression and anxiety. For instance, in 2021, 37% (~1 billion women) and 30% (~800 million women) of women globally struggled to afford food and adequate shelter, respectively.5 These stressors to meet foundational social determinants of health were related to a higher incidence of feeling negative emotions like stress and worry. The scores for struggle in meeting financial needs were highest in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, pointing to a correlation between poor emotional health outcomes.

Table 2.2: Country Rankings on Women’s Basic Needs 
Table 2.2: Country Rankings on Women’s Basic Needs

Women are also 160% more likely to experience mental health issues than men.15 When it comes to seeking care for mental health, a 2021 Oliver Wyman study found that while women were 20% more likely to consider seeking mental health care, men were 12% more likely to actually receive mental health care.16 Some of these findings are attributed to the social and economic effects of the pandemic on women, including a greater chance of losing their jobs, being less likely to benefit from an economic recovery and being tasked with a disproportionate amount of caregiving responsibilities.16

Women in health care careers experienced higher levels of burnout relative to men and reported missing 1 or more days of work due to burnout, stress or mental health issues.17 Furthermore, a Deloitte study noted while one-third of women may take time off work for mental health challenges, only 43% feel comfortable discussing their challenges in the workplace, and 42% of women are concerned that their career trajectory will suffer by not always being available.18 It is important to note that women struggling with mental health issues who do not take some time off to address them are likely to leave their job.17

What Can Employers Do to Better Support Women’s Mental Health Needs?

  • Assess global trends, noting countries that have a less robust clinical infrastructure and weak support for women in the workforce and identify the environmental barriers women face in accessing mental health care.
  • Work with people managers to ensure that their teams have a sustainable pace of work, flexibility to meet both work and life demands and realistic deadlines on deliverables to prevent burnout and stress.
  • Create a culture of caring where senior leaders and C-Suite executives talk openly about their experience with and commitment to addressing mental health. Reinforce this messaging with actions, such as campaigns highlighting mental health resources in the local language that take into consideration cultural sensitivity and nuances.
  • Enhance virtual mental health support offerings.
  • Provide educational tools, materials and trainings to foster mental health communication in the workforce.
  • Strive for accountability through measurement and evaluation by utilizing feedback loops, claims data and utilization reports and use of social communication channels.

Virtual Health Solutions to Address Women’s Health

  • Virtual health solutions have proliferated during COVID-19. They provide an avenue for women to access care that they might not have otherwise sought due to barriers in time, cost, distance and caregiving obligations.19,20
  • In one notable virtual health example, a telemedicine network supports employers in connecting employees with various health specialists (including ob-gyns and lactation consultants) at a lower cost compared to an in-person visit. The service provides the opportunity for women to take fewer days off from work and receive assistance with payment reimbursement for services utilized.
  • Studies during COVID-19 are finding that women are more likely to use telemedicine visits for many forms of care (i.e., primary care) compared to their male counterparts. Despite the benefits virtual solutions provide, in cases like maternal health, virtual health solutions have some challenges such as limited monitoring due to the inability to perform physical examinations like heartbeat monitoring. Some virtual health users also experience barriers such as poor internet coverage or lack of Wi- Fi.21,22

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