We need to talk about the impact attacks on women have on mental health

The recent news cycle can be exhausting for those who just want to feel safe


Yesterday 10th October marked World Mental Health Day, a day which becomes more and more important every year as the social stigma surrounding mental health *slowly* decreases. Since the recent murder of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa, the conversation around women’s safety and mental health has been reignited. The emotional and mental toll on women is often overlooked in times like this.

Social media this past year has been filled with information and activism on women’s safety, most notably after the murders of Sarah and Sabina, and it’s through the power of social media that so much awareness has been raised. And that’s great, because it means anyone can make a difference simply by picking up their phone and sharing or retweeting a post. But as invigorating as it is to see people engaging with such an important topic, it’s also exhausting to be reminded time and time again how vulnerable women are to attacks by men. It’s also disheartening to see how little the government has done to prevent attacks since Sarah’s murder in March last year, and how even taking a five-minute walk in a highly populated area, like Sabina did, is still not safe.

The Soton Tab spoke to several women about how their mental health had been affected by the reports, and many of them felt extremely angry.

Molly, a student who’s recently moved to Dublin to study, said that she feels “angry a lot of the time” and thinks people “don’t care enough about violence against women”. She went onto tell us that since the murders, she’s bought pepper spray and a rape whistle for extra protection, but that she hates how she has to alter her behaviour and life when “we could just be teaching men that they aren’t owed anything from women”.

Zoe, a Southampton Graduate, echoed Molly’s words, saying that “if men thought about sexual assault as much as women did, thinking about how they could change their behaviour, it just wouldn’t be the same world”. She said that women’s safety was “100 per cent” more on her mind because of the murders.

The Soton Tab asked 380 women if the news cycle had caused them to change their actions like Molly and Zoe had, and 65 per cent came back saying they had. One person said they now uber home from work instead of walking, with several others telling us they’re scared to leave the house alone at night.

And these feelings are anything but helped by the Met Police’s response to the recent murders. Instead of admitting they have a problem within the force, the Met police have told women they should flag down buses or call 999 to check the officer arresting them is legit – once again placing the onus on women.

Ellen, an Exeter student, called the Met guidelines “downright offensive” to women, and she’s not wrong. Because the message these guidelines send is that women cannot trust the police – something which marginalised groups have been saying for years –  and that the only way we can stay safe is to take our protection into our own hands.

The sad truth is that women have been taught how to protect themselves from men from birth. All three of the women who spoke to The Soton Tab said how being worried over their safety wasn’t a new feeling, it had just been heightened by the recent murders. Ellen told me she’s developed a feeling of numbness from the news, because whilst she knows there’s nothing more she can do to protect herself, the responsibility is fully on her, which is exhausting.

And that’s exactly it, because the murders of Sarah and Sabina have showed women that they can do everything to keep safe, and it’s still not enough. Because violence against women isn’t caused by the victims. It’s caused by the male attackers who are surrounded by a society that tells them that they are owed everything from women. So women can buy all the rape whistles, hail down all the buses and be more ‘streetwise’, but that will not change the epidemic of male violence against women in our country.

What is needed is government and police reform, better education on how to treat women and girls in schools, and for men to take ownership within this crisis and to do something about it. Women are tired, and it’s time things changed.

If you or someone you love has been affected by the recent news, the following links can provide some support:

Information on how to support survivors – A Metro article providing tips on how to support survivors of violence and sexual abuse during triggering news cycles.

Yellow Door – A Hampshire based charity specialising in domestic and sexual abuse.

Samaritans – A charity based on providing emotional support 24/7.

Student Hub – Based at the university, offers wellbeing support for all students both in person and online