This Mental Health Awareness Week, a report published by Advance, a charity directly supporting thousands of women who have experienced trauma and abuse, shows that:
- Mental health needs among women using its domestic abuse services has gone up slightly since lockdown (37 to 38 per cent) 
- Across all of its services more than half of women (51 per cent) have mental health needs – three times higher than the general population 
- PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), anxiety and depression were the most common mental health issues reported by women to Advance staff 
It comes after the charity identified an eight-fold increase in suicides among the women it was working with last year (from one to eight women dying in a year) . Staff are warning the situation for women has not improved and fear more women are at risk of dying by suicide. It is calling for urgent action from the government to tackle the issue as they consult on the future of mental health support for the next ten years.
Advance’s report, No Relief: Women’s Mental Health After Covid, was produced from data from thousands of women who use its services, as well as from a survey, focus groups and interviews with its frontline staff.
It shows that women have still been struggling to get the mental health support they need, with long waiting lists and high thresholds to get help. Meanwhile, continued abuse, a lack of adequate support from other agencies such as housing, social services and the police, as well as the cost-of-living crisis, have added to women’s stress.
Niki Scordi, CEO of Advance said:
“Advance’s research shows that despite lockdowns ending and restrictions easing following the height of the Covid pandemic, the mental health of women using our domestic abuse services has not improved. Too many women’s lives continue to be blighted by abuse and trauma – and they are not getting the help they need. This is catastrophic for women, for children and for society as a whole.
“Without urgent action, women will continue to suffer and even take their own lives as a direct result of domestic abuse. We need to see women’s mental health becoming a national priority and robust steps taken to tackle this issue. With the government currently consulting on its ten-year mental health plan, there is no excuse not to take action and create a national women’s mental health strategy to help save the lives of women and girls.”
One woman, Zoe*, highlighted the difficult issues many women are facing:
“Although I made the decision during lockdown to leave, my worries have kept me here. I am scared he will take the house; I am scared he will take the children abroad. I am worried I will have to leave my job as he will find me there and hurt me. I worry about the things I need to put in place before I leave, such as separating finances and informing my children’s school without him knowing. The idea of defying him and leaving with the children is terrifying.”
Advance helped Zoe get the confidence to go to her doctor for her mental health and will support her as she takes the next steps.
Frontline services like Advance provide emotional wellbeing support like this, beyond capacity and often without associated funding. The charity says it wants to see greater investment in this type of vital community-based support to ensure women are not falling through the gaps.
Fida*, a mental health IDVA (independent domestic violence advocate) with the charity, says women are continuing to face problems getting help. She said:
“Waiting lists are one of the biggest barriers to women getting effective mental health support. Often you will complete a referral, wait a while, only for them to say there isn’t any space. However, even if the referral is accepted, the wait for the assessment is very long.
“It is stressful for the women, especially those who need immediate support. It is very challenging to explain to someone who is dealing with social services, the courts, her children, the perpetrator, and any other things in her life, that there is a long waiting list. She wants immediate support. Not having it puts her at further risk of violence and of returning to the perpetrator.”
Advance is also calling for counselling to be more widely available and for more training to be given to medical professionals, especially GPs and mental health practitioners, to identify abuse and to ensure treatment is trauma-informed, which means support that takes into account women’s experiences of abuse and trauma.
The full report and list of recommendations is available here: Research – Advance Charity
*names have been changed
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- Advance’s vision is a world in which women and children lead safe, violence-free and equal lives so that they can flourish and actively contribute to society. The charity works with women who experience domestic abuse to be safe and lead the lives they choose, and women who have committed crime or are at risk of offending to break the cycle.
- As well as providing direct support, Advance works with statutory services, government agencies and other women’s charities to ensure a holistic approach to the issues these women face.
- Women must be referred to Advance, via statutory services or the charity’s self-referral scheme. For more information about who Advance is able to support, please visit Get Help
- For facts and statistics about domestic abuse and women in the criminal justice system, as well as Advance’s work, please visit Our Impact
 Internal case management data extracted from a caseload of 2,015 across Advance domestic abuse services in March 2022, compared to figures in this report: Advance (2021), ‘Women Demand Better Mental Health: the impact of abuse, trauma and the Covid-19 pandemic on women’s mental health’. https://www.advancecharity.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Women-Demand-Better-Mental-Health.pdf
 Internal case management data extracted from a caseload of 2,015 across Advance domestic abuse services and 1,312 across Advance criminal justice system services in March 2022.
Analysis of internal survey of Advance service staff
 Advance (2021), ‘Women Demand Better Mental Health: the impact of abuse, trauma and the Covid-19 pandemic on women’s mental health’. https://www.advancecharity.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Women-Demand-Better-Mental-Health.pdf