Considering that today is International Women’s Day, it’s a perfect time to reflect on the biggest health issues facing women in Australia right now.
As a doctor, thinking about this topic fills me with so many thoughts. Because the truth is, while we are somewhat fortunate in this lucky country of ours, women in Australia still face many health concerns. Yes, there’s the physical health concerns, such as the risk of coronary heart disease and breast cancer. But there are other health issues that spring to my mind when I think about this topic.
Mental health issues
Sadly, mental health issues are rife in Australian women. According to beyond blue, around one in six women will experience depression and one in three will suffer anxiety during their lifetime. Women are also more likely to suffer from eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder than our male counterparts. Those who choose to have a baby may be hit with another wave of mental health worries, with one in ten women experiencing depression in pregnancy, and one in six suffering postnatal depression. Clearly, we have a problem.
While I’m concerned about the health of all women in Australia, I’m particularly saddened by the gap in health between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and those who are non-Indigenous. According to the Australian Institute of Health & Welfare (AIHW), Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander have a 9.5 year lower life expectancy than non-Indigenous females. Also, two-thirds of deaths in Indigenous people occur before the age of 65, compared to just 19% in non-Indigenous people. It’s not just about life expectancy. Health Direct state that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are also more likely than non-Indigenous Australians to have respiratory disease, mental health problems, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and chronic kidney disease.
Violence against women
While it’s hard to pinpoint the single health issue I’m most concerned about for Australian women, one that stands out for me is the risks women face on a daily basis at the hands of others. I’m talking about violence against women. It’s hard to flick through news headlines without hearing story upon story of violence inflicted on women in Australia.
Just this week, Australia was rocked by news of the murder of Sydney dentist Dr Preethi Reddy, whose body was found in a suitcase. Sadly, her murder is far from an anomaly. Destroy The Joint is counting dead women and have reported that 11 women in Australia were killed by violence so far this year. Eleven women since January 1, 2019. Let that sink in for a moment. According to White Ribbon, on average, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner.
Other statistics are just as worrying. They state that one in four women have experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner since the age of 15, and one in five women have experienced sexual violence since the age of 15. The AIHW also state that intimate partner violence causes more illness, disability and deaths than any other risk factor for women aged 25-44. These figures are truly shocking and indicate just how much of a problem Australia has when it comes to violence against women. Of course, there are lots of other health issues that women in Australia have to contend with, and by no means am I saying this is an exhaustive list; they’re just the first ones that spring to my mind when I think about this topic.
But it is International Women’s Day, a day in which we celebrate women’s achievements and continue working towards a gender-balanced world. And we have come so far in so many ways. Now it’s time to keep working on these key areas to create a healthier, happier and – perhaps most importantly, safer – future for all Australian women.
In an emergency please call 000.
If you or someone you know needs help, phone Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the 24-hour Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.
Mental health professionals are available 24/7 at the beyondblue Support Service – 1300 22 46 36 or via beyondblue.org.au/get-support for online chat (3pm-12am AEST) or email response.
If you or someone you know is affected by domestic violence, please call 1800 RESPECT(1800 737 732).