Understanding the Mental Health Needs of Women and Girls experiencing Gender-Based Violence

Many factors can impact women and girls’ mental health and wellbeing. Poverty and socio-economic disadvantage have an influence on mental health and wellbeing. Social characteristics - such as gender, disability, age, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation and family status – impact on both the likelihood that someone will experience mental health and wellbeing problems during their lifetime, as well as their ability to access support and services for these issues. We also know that experiences of trauma and adversity can have a significant impact on mental health and wellbeing. Across most aspects of mental health, outcomes for women and girls are poorer than for men and boys, with women who face additional barriers due to social characteristics and/ or multiple/ complex needs experiencing further inequality of outcomes.

Emerging evidence suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic, and the restrictions put in place to address it, has also triggered a steep decline in women and girls’ mental health and wellbeing and increased levels of trauma. There are a number of reasons for this including women and girls being significantly more likely to have experienced heightened risks of domestic abuse and other forms of gender-based violence over the last 12 months, as well as additional pressures during the pandemic such as taking on additional caring responsibilities and facing reduced employment opportunities and increased financial uncertainty.

Aims of this project

In 2020, the Scottish Government published the Coronavirus (COVID-19): Mental Health - Transition and Recovery Plan which includes a commitment to engage with women’s organisations and other key stakeholders to:

  • better understand and respond to the gender-related mental health inequalities exacerbated by the Covid-19 outbreak
  • identify, and follow up on, actions that can be taken to support women and girls’ mental health in relation to the threat and reality of violence against women, building on existing initiatives and the principles set out in Equally Safe.

This research project, coordinated by the Improvement Service, aims to ensure that the Scottish Government and other key partners have a robust understanding of:

  • the mental health and wellbeing needs of women and girls who have experienced all forms of gender-based violence, including domestic abuse (including coercive control), rape and sexual assault, commercial sexual exploitation and so-called ‘honour-based violence’
  • how these needs, and the systems and services in place locally to address them, have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Tangible actions that can be progressed by the Scottish Government and/or local authorities to ensure that women and girls who have experienced gender-based violence receive the appropriate mental health and wellbeing support they need, at the time they need it, as we move towards COVID-19 recovery and renewal.

This 3 month project ran from August – October 2021 and consisted of the following key elements:

  • A review of existing evidence and research on the mental health needs of women and girls who have experienced gender-based violence, and the impact of COVID-19
  • A series of deep dive events with stakeholders in the VAWG and mental health sectors to capture learning on issues and improvement actions identified by these stakeholders
  • A national survey, conducted in partnership with SafeLives, capturing experiences of survivors in Scotland
  • Consultation sessions with VAWG lived experience groups on their mental health and wellbeing needs, experiences of accessing support, and their recommendations
  • A final learning event and report to highlight recommendations and actions identified across the project.

The learning from this project will be published soon.

If you have any questions or would like to know more about any elements of this work then please contact