Background Perceived sex discrimination is linked with poor mental health. However, previous research is dominated by small convenience samples of US students, with a focus on sexual harassment rather than discrimination more broadly. This study aimed to examine cross-sectional and prospective associations between perceived sex discrimination and mental health and wellbeing in a community sample from the United Kingdom (UK).
Methods Data were from 2956 women aged ≥16 years participating in the UK Household Longitudinal Study. Perceived discrimination was reported in 2009/10. Psychological distress, mental functioning, life satisfaction and self-rated health were assessed in 2009/10 and 2013/14. Depression was assessed in 2009/10. Linear and logistic regression analyses adjusted for age, household income, education and ethnicity.
Results Perceived sex discrimination was reported by 576 (19.5%) participants. Cross-sectionally, perceived discrimination was associated with increased depression (Odds ratio (OR=3.16, 95% Confidence Interval (CI) 2.10; 4.79) and psychological distress (B=1.26, 95% CI 0.95; 1.56), and poorer mental functioning (B=-5.39, 95% CI -6.33; -4.46), life satisfaction (B=-0.52, 95% CI -0.69; -0.36) and self-rated health (OR=1.89, 95% CI 1.47; 2.41). Prospectively, perceived sex discrimination was associated with increased psychological distress (B=0.66, 95% CI 0.07; 1.24), poorer mental functioning (B=-1.37, 95% CI -2.71;-0.03) and lower life satisfaction (B=-0.32, 95% CI -0.58; -0.05) over four-year follow-up.
Conclusion Women in the UK who perceive that they have been discriminated against on the basis of their sex report poorer mental health and wellbeing than those who do not perceive sex discrimination. These results provide cross-sectional and prospective evidence of associations between perceived sex discrimination and mental health and wellbeing outcomes in UK adults.
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