Women's Mental Health Network

What will the Women’s Mental Health Network do?

Wish and other third sector organisations have spent years developing gender specific services that meet women’s needs. There is policy in place that directs statutory services to do the same, but the gender-specific recommendations are not followed through in practice. For women to have any hope of getting the support that they require, this has got to change. Services have to understand that women need to be treated differently; they need to see that providing better, cross-sector, gender-specific support will make a huge positive difference.

Wish is therefore joining together with a diverse group of partners to create the Women’s Mental Health Network, a user-led campaigning platform that allows women to say what needs to change in statutory service provision, and to drive these changes forward. The partners come from a range of sectors, and the network aims to embrace all aspects of diversity in order to represent the various areas of difficulty that women face.

Current partners include:

Wish – A user-led women’s mental health organisation driving forward consistently gender-specific services within the mental health and criminal justice systems. Wish is the lead organisation in the partnership



National Survivor User Network (NSUN) – a service user led network connecting people with mental health needs to shape services and policy


Against Violence and Abuse (AVA) – a charity working to end gender based violence and abuse



St Mungo’s – a charity supporting homeless people



Revolving Doors Agency (RDA) – a charity working to improve services for people in repeat contact with the criminal justice system





Women in Prison (WIP) – a national charity supporting women in the criminal justice system





Imkaan – a black feminist organisation which addresses violence against women and girls





People First (Self Advocacy) – a campaigning and self- advocacy organisation run by and for people with learning difficulties


The WMHN’s focus is to improve women’s experience of using statutory services in a range of settings, such as hospitals, prisons, drugs and alcohol, housing, and social services, by influencing them to become more gender-specific. Everything we do will be women-led and designed to give women a strong and powerful voice.

We have already held focus groups with 30 women to identify 10 areas that are key campaigning issues. The next step is to reach out to 5000 women and ask them to identify the top 3 issues that we need to campaign to change. We will reach these women through channels provided by 53 organisations, including additional partner organisations, to ensure an inclusive approach in developing the Network.

After women have told us what is most important to them in service provision, we will develop, pilot and evaluate user-led campaigns with women. These campaigns will be designed to improve and drive forward the provision of gender-specific statutory services, and we will take them forward at a national level. These campaigns will change aspects of statutory services and put gender-specific policy into practice, so that women’s mental health is acknowledged at the point of service delivery, and women get the services they want, need and deserve.

Women's Mental Health Network

Introducing the Women’s Mental Health Network

Setting up and launching the Women’s Mental Health Network has been a long term aim of Wish, and we are almost there!!!

Wish, is the only national, user-led charity working with women with mental health needs in prison, hospital and the community. For 30 years we have been at the fore of providing long-term, gender-sensitive services, and supported women to have their voices heard at policy level. I have been associated with Wish for 15 of those 30 years, and as a researcher, I could see the fragmented and circular journey women experienced in and through the system; and quite frankly what an unfair deal they were getting, especially considering the billions that are ploughed into mental health, and other associated statutory services, each year.  Most statutory services do not meet women’s needs in a gender-specific way, the multi-strand services that women come into contact with: mental health services, social services, prison, drugs and alcohol, the police and the courts … are not on the same page, in any way, about the gender-specific needs of women.  And frustratingly, although the policies are in place directing services to better meet the needs of women, it is just not happening, as there have never been resources allocated to make change happen; instead there is more research and more policy but very little happening on the ground to improve women’s experience of services. In fact many say that most statutory services undermine women’s recovery through neglect and mistreatment. There are many shocking stories to back this up, including:

  • A woman being allowed to lie in her own urine as a punishment for incontinence and being scared to speak up in case she was punished further
  • A women divulging the most heart rending story which triggered her self-harm – and being given a different cocktail of drugs
  • A woman being refused respite when she felt unsafe, and ending up in prison … again

The list is endless …

Photo by Michael Coghlan via Flickr

Many of the women with complex needs that Wish and other partner organisations work with have had traumatic and abusive beginnings, and lives with few opportunities. They have received little support to address the issues that they have experienced, which has resulted in them developing a range of self-harming behaviours.

And of course, the less women are listened to the more they are silenced by the system.  The Women’s Mental Health Network, a partnership of organisations from a range of sectors, aims to break that cycle of silence for these women who are unable to make their voices heard at an individual level, by giving them a collective voice across sectors. The network will provide a platform for them to speak out and to drive forward change.

It is a long, hard journey for women who have to tell their stories time and time again to services that do not listen to them.  For many women, Wish and similar third sector organisations have been the only solid support that they have been able to rely on. Third sector organisations work hard to enable and empower women, and support them to turn their lives around. Unfortunately, these organisations are not only poorly funded, and not recognised for the services they deliver or the value they bring, they are also undermined by statutory services. It is therefore crucial that statutory services improve.

The Women’s Mental Health Network have held 5 focus groups with 30 women from diverse backgrounds and they have identified 10 areas that are key campaigning issues, including inappropriate physical restraint by male staff, which acts to re-traumatise women; services and professionals not taking reports of domestic violence seriously putting women at risk; across the system staff lacking understanding of and respect for women’s distress; and not being treated in a humane way.  The next step is to consult with at least 5,000 women so that they can confirm the top 3 priority areas in which to drive forward and effect change.

In the early autumn we plan to launch the Women’s Mental Health Network. We have decided to launch it through music, the universal language, which we think will be much more inspiring, relatable and empowering than a government launch. We are therefore seeking a high profile female singer who is passionate about women’s rights, and who can promote a strong women’s voice for equality. Do you know someone? Are you someone? Get in touch! And please support the Women’s Mental Health Network and make our voices heard – become a member now!