A new program seeks to improve the understanding of and responses to mental health issues for young women. 

Young women experience mental health problems at two to three times the rate of young men, with domestic and sexual abuse a key factor behind this difference.

Evidence shows that almost half of young women (aged 18-30) report psychological distress, one in five are diagnosed with anxiety and depression (about double the rate of young men) and 45 per cent report self-harming.

Participants in a new scheme at the University of South Australia are being asked to co-design new peer-based online resources to help improve the mental health and wellbeing of young women affected by abuse and mental ill-health.

“International research shows that young women respond well to supports that are peer-driven, trauma-informed, and run by and for young women,” says UniSA’s Professor Nicole Moulding.

“What this means is that young women who have been affected by abuse and mental health problems are not only guiding what constitutes suitable support but are also helping deliver this support.

“In Australia, while we do have many wonderful organisations that offer support to victims of abuse and people experiencing mental health problems, most of these cater to mixed gender audiences and are not always trauma-informed in their approach.

“Young women affected by mental health problems, including the many with experiences of gendered violence and abuse in their backgrounds, need trauma-informed gender-responsive support – and this is where our study comes in.

“We’re looking to design and create a range of trauma-informed, gender-responsive mental health resources, co-designed by young women who have taken part in our study.

“The end goal is to have a dedicated safe space for young women to connect with each other, lean on each other, share their experiences and bond together – essentially, it’s women helping women.”

UniSA’s Dr Michele Jarldorn, says the team is currently seeking young women aged 18-30 years to be involved in this unique and progressive initiative.

“Too many young women are struggling with mental health issues in Australia today, but unfortunately many cannot access support services, or they find that when they do, the advice provided and approach taken often does not take into account the context of their gendered life experiences,” Dr Jarldorn says.

“This project provides opportunities for young women to help and support others with similar experiences and to feel empowered by doing so.”

The study takes place over three stages: an anonymous online survey, an online focus group, and the development of an online mental health peer support website for young women.

More information is accessible here.