Marginalised women and girls face barriers to mental health services

by Rachel Cunningham
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Rachel Cunningham

Marginalised women and girls face a variety of barriers in accessing mental health services, a new report has revealed.

Last week, the National Women’s Council launched the landmark report, which was researched by Quality Matters and funded by the HSE to support the implementation of Sharing the Vision, Ireland’s national mental health policy.

The World Health Organisation has identified gender as a critical determinant of mental health and illness.

As more research emerges, it is becoming apparent that a gender-sensitive approach is a vital consideration in healthcare. Such an approach recognises how socio-political and cultural factors, in addition to biological factors, shape care needs, care delivery and the impact of health outcomes.

The research examined current best practices in gender-sensitive mental health care, outlining practices and gaps in Ireland and identifying recommendations for the delivery of a gender-sensitive mental health care system for women and girls.

It found that a gendered lens is currently absent from policy and strategy in Ireland, while self-assessed practitioners’ knowledge of gender-sensitive mental health varies widely among professionals.

Interviewees felt that service providers should view ‘women’ not as a homogeneous group but from an intersectional perspective.

The respondents underscored the lack of provision of culturally sensitive services to minoritised people, including trans people, gender variant people, women seeking international protection, ethnic and religious minority women, women who do not speak English and women with low levels of formal education was mentioned by the majority of contributors.

A significant concern for the majority of stakeholders was structural and systemic barriers for access to healthcare, caused by staff shortages, long waiting lists and inequity in the provision of services.

One of the most common themes discussed across the interviews and focus group was the ramifications of having childcare commitments and lack of childcare supports.

Based on an international evidence-review, combined with interviews and focus groups, the report made a number of recommendations.

The key recommendations were increasing mental health funding, providing training and staff supports to mainstream gender-sensitive, trauma-aware care and embedding a tailored approach which takes account of cultural sensitivities.

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