The key themes identified by women who have taken part in our focus groups are:
Men: Most services are run by men, even in the voluntary sector. Male staff members in prisons and hospitals often abuse their power over female patients. Male officers are a particularly problematic at night – women are re-traumatised by footsteps in the corridor, hearing breathing, seeing male faces looking in.
Male psychiatrists are not appropriate in relation to childhood abuse and rape issues, as women find it especially difficult to talk about these issues with men.
Prison: Women with serious mental health issues should not be in prison. Female prisoners do not receive the support and treatment they need to recover.
Hospitals: There is a lot of bullying on hospital wards, and mixed wards can be particularly traumatising for women who are mentally unwell or in distress.
Domestic Violence: Domestic violence is not just physical, and is often difficult for the victim to recognise, talk about or escape from.
Housing: The lack of safe, suitable housing is a big issue for women. More support is needed to maintain tenancy, and there needs to be more understanding of rent arrears.
Children: Mothers are needlessly separated from their children far too often. There should be more of an understanding of the importance of keeping a mother and child together. Separation should be a last resort after family intervention and rehabilitation.
Staff attitudes and behaviour: The existing statutory services are set up for men, not women. Women experiencing mental health issues or domestic violence rarely feel like their problems are taken seriously by doctors. The services are not compassionate or supportive, but dismissive and oppressive, often resulting in re-traumatisation.