Today is International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate steps towards a world where gender doesn’t hold anyone back. It is also a day to reflect on the challenges and barriers that women still face, including in areas such as mental health and suicide. Mental health and suicide prevention charities play a crucial role in addressing these challenges and providing support to those who need it most.

This year’s theme is “Embrace Equity.” The 2023 campaign seeks to challenge the notion that equal opportunities are enough to achieve true inclusion and belonging. While progress has been made in terms of women’s rights and gender equality, there is still much work to be done. The reality is that people start from different places, and for true equity to be achieved, we need to take equitable action.

But what is equity?

Not to be mistaken for equality, equity refers to fairness and justice in how different resources and opportunities are distributed. It is about recognising that different individuals and groups have different needs and experiences, and that these differences must be considered in order to achieve true equality. Where equality is about treating everyone the same regardless of their differences, equity is about taking those differences into account; recognising and addressing the specific needs and challenges faced by different individuals and groups, and making the adjustments to ensure everyone has a fair chance.

Why is this relevant in suicide prevention?

In terms of suicide prevention, this message is particularly relevant. Suicide is a complex issue that often stems from a range of factors, including mental health conditions, social isolation, discrimination, background, and life experiences. When it comes to suicide prevention, equity is a critical factor. Women specifically are disproportionately affected by suicide, with rates of suicide attempts and suicidal ideation being higher among women than men – though men are more likely to die by suicide. To prevent suicide, we need to ensure that everyone has access to the support and resources they need to thrive.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case, particularly for women. Despite progress in recent years, women still face significant barriers to achieving equity in many areas of life, including education, employment, and healthcare. These barriers can increase the risk of suicide, particularly in vulnerable groups and people.

Last year, the Samaritans published a report which highlighted one of the most significant factors contributing to women’s increased risk of suicide is gender-based violence. Research shows that women who experience intimate partner violence are at a much higher risk of suicide than those who do not. This risk is even higher for women who experience multiple forms of violence, such as physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.

To prevent suicide among women who experience gender-based violence, we need to take equitable action. This means providing access to support services and resources that are tailored to women’s specific needs. It also means challenging the societal norms and structures that perpetuate violence against women and promoting gender equality at all levels of society.

Another factor that contributes to women’s higher rates of suicidal behaviour is the stigma surrounding mental health. While women are more likely to seek help for mental health struggles than men, research shows they are also more likely to report facing judgment and discrimination when they do so. This can make it difficult for women to access the support they need and can increase feelings of isolation and hopelessness.

There is no doubt that mental health diagnosis is a risk factor for suicidal thoughts among all genders. However, it’s important to note women are more likely than men to experience certain mental health conditions, such as depression and borderline personality disorder, and are also more likely than men to report a history of a mood disorder. These factors are all strongly linked to a history of self-harm, suicidal ideation and behaviour which may increase the risk of suicide.

Health services, as well as dedicated organisations, can play a crucial role in addressing these challenges and providing equitable support to those who need it most. This includes providing gender-sensitive support services that consider the specific needs and experiences of women. It also includes working to reduce stigma surrounding mental health and suicide, particularly among marginalised communities – and this is something we are all responsible for.

Ultimately, achieving equity in suicide prevention requires a holistic and intersectional approach. This means recognising the specific challenges and barriers faced by women, particularly those from marginalised communities, and working to address them in a comprehensive and equitable way.

The theme of Embrace Equity for this year’s International Women’s Day reminds us that equal opportunities are not enough, and that we need to take equitable actions to achieve true inclusion and belonging. It is a theme that holds an important message for suicide prevention. Suicide is a complex issue that is influenced by a range of factors, to prevent suicide, we need to ensure that everyone has access to the support and resources they need to thrive, regardless of their gender or other social identities. By taking equitable action to promote gender equality and challenge discrimination, we can create a world where suicide is rare and preventable.

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