WOMHER's background

Mental illness in society has increased in Sweden and globally over the past twenty years. Depression and anxiety disorders are among the major public diseases and affect people of all ages but are two to three times more common in women during the reproductive years compared to men. There are no reliable explanations for the increase in mental illness regarding incidence and gender differences, even though the increase has been related to various aspects of changed living conditions in society. In recent years, there has been a growing interest in issues concerning women's health. One reason is the sharp increase in sick leave rates due to mental illness among women, especially young women. A worrying increase in mental illness is also noted among Uppsala University students.

This studied area will be focused on through Uppsala University's center WOMHER with broad and senior knowledge from several widely differing research areas. Within the new center, there is a network with strong competencies from Uppsala University's different disciplinary domains, which enables multidisciplinary research. Our conviction is that an investment in this area will significantly strengthen the opportunity for collaboration between researchers at Uppsala University, development of stronger international collaborations and strengthening Uppsala University's already prominent international position with the goal of increasing knowledge about mental illness in women of childbearing age.


There are many reasons to focus on women's mental health, two important reasons are:

  • Twice as many women as men are diagnosed with depression, anxiety, pain problems and stress-related illnesses.

And there are several reasons to focus on the reproductive years, some of which are:

  • From a social and equality perspective, events during the reproductive years have a very large impact on a woman's life.
  • The susceptibility to mental illness increases during pregnancy and after childbirth, this is illustrated by the sick leave rates for women who become significantly higher after the birth of the first child.
  • Mental illness has significant and specific consequences for sexual and reproductive health, such as sexual self-destructive behavior and difficulties in finding effective contraception.
  • Mental illness around childbirth has consequences for the child's attachment and emotional development


Mental illness is increasing on a global scale as, for example, more than 300 million people are currently affected by depression. However, big differences exist between men and women. Such discrepancies are not only caused by differing exposures to risk, but also unequal conditions for autonomy, self-governance, and socio-economic status. Women and children represent the greater majority of those affected by catastrophes, civil wars, and violent conflicts. Furthermore, at least one in five women are subjected to rape or attempt thereof during their lifetime.

Mental illness is also to a large extent affected by a general lack of societal status. Globally, women are continuously subjected to discrimination. The examples of gender-specific differences include inequalities in health care consumption, patterns of treatment, and receiving the right diagnosis. Furthermore, women encounter more difficulties when attempting to speak about, or receiving help after, being exposed to violence.

Relatively speaking, little attention has been given to the mechanisms that promote mental health and increases the resilience towards stress and adversity. The World Health Organization, WHO, advocates that research within this field especially consider, and pay attention to, violations of patient and human rights for people who experience mental illness.

WHO also suggests that a legal framework be adopted to improve the ethical dimensions of research, politics, and mental healthcare. Women are clearly over-represented in many common forms of mental illness. Here, the identification and modification of social factors that affect women’s mental health provide the opportunity for primary prevention.

Last modified: 2023-06-29