Montreal(RPRN) 5/14/09 — A recent study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health (OWH), has further highlighted the disparity between men and womenâ€™s mental health, their rates of illness, and subsequent differences in treatment – but also offers suggestions on how to bridge the gap and treat womenâ€™s mental health more successfully.
The report, entitled â€œAction Steps for Improving Women’s Mental Healthâ€, picks up where previous publications, intended primarily to bring the issue of mental illness out of the shadows and into the forefront, have left off. While these previous reports have done much to de-stigmatize mental illness and promote further study, few have focused on the issues specific to womenâ€™s mental health, says Wanda Jones, Dr.P.H., health scientist and director of the OWH.
â€œWe have to accept that mental illness is not a sign of weakness; it’s not a choice. But it is treatable, and our own innate resilience protects us and plays a critical role in combating mental illness, especially depression and anxiety,â€ Jones says.
According to the study, while nearly half of all Americans will have symptoms of mental illness at some point in there lives, women are nearly twice as likely as men to suffer from major depression. They are also three times as likely to attempt suicide, and experience anxiety disorders two to three times more often than men (this includes post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, which affects women more than twice as often as men).
These statistics – though distressing – are not new, yet they are often underplayed, says Jones; a fact which emphasized the need both for the recent study, and the implementation of its recommended actions to more adequately treat womenâ€™s mental illnesses.
While â€œAction Steps for Improving Women’s Mental Healthâ€ recommends many steps to be taken by researchers, health care providers, and policy-makers, the authors of the study also provide an invaluable resource directly to and for women and their loved ones.
Capitalizing on the evidence that women are more likely than men to seek help with mental health, â€œWomenâ€™s Mental Health: What it Means to Youâ€ – a free, downloadable booklet authored by Jones -includes information on the signs and symptoms of mental illness, addressing the various challenges a womanâ€™s mental wellness may face – from childhood through adolescence, motherhood, menopause, and into her golden years.
The booklet focuses on key issues specific to womenâ€™s mental health; the prevalence and treatment of trauma or abuse (nearly one in four women is raped or physically abused in her lifetime), eating disorders (women represent 90 percent of all cases of eating disorders, which carries the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses), and cultural stigmas (which remain particularly pronounced among racial and ethnic minorities, older adults, and individuals living in rural areas, according to the study). It also provides suggestions for maintaining or recovering mental health, with a focus on support women can provide for themselves and their families.
Both publications offer very useful resource guides. â€œWomenâ€™s Mental Health: What it Means to Youâ€, includes links for free information, including referrals to local and national resources and organizations (or contact SAMHSAâ€™s National Mental Health Information Center at 1-800-789-2647 (toll-free), 866-889-2647 (TDD)), information about girlsâ€™ mental health, and practical information to help adolescent girls and adult women achieve better physical, mental, social, and spiritual wellness (or through the HRSA Information Center at 1-888-ASK-HRSA), amongst others. It also includes a useful list of helplines, which provide mental health information, referrals, and crisis counseling, in some cases.
â€œAction Steps for Improving Women’s Mental Healthâ€ has over 20 pages of free resources, with helpful links for healthcare professionals and citizens alike, offering a vast range of topics insuring a near certainty of finding help with any mental health topic.
Samples of the links provided include â€œChoose Respectâ€, an initiative designed to help adolescents form healthy relationships, facts sheets on depression, medications, and the Teenage Brain, booklets covering every mental health concern from Anxiety Disorders to Social Phobia, and a link to the National Institute of Mental Healthâ€™s services locator for all mental health issues.
Also included is a thorough list of self assessment tools (such as the â€œSatisfaction with Life Scale“) and other tools for concerned adults (such as â€œSelf-Esteem Gamesâ€, computer games designed to improve playersâ€™ self-esteem).
These publications insure that, while women may still have some time to wait for the recommended steps to be implemented, they and their families have been provided with many of the tools, facts, and resources needed to help – and empower – themselves about their mental health in the interim.
*Perinatal depression encompasses major
and minor depressive episodes that occur
either during pregnancy or within the first
12 months following delivery.
*Anxiety disorders are characterized by a
disabling, excessive, or irrational dread of
everyday situations. They include general-
ized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compul-
sive disorder, panic disorder, post-trau-
matic stress disorder, and social phobia.
*Eating disorders may take the form of
excessive reduction of food intake or
overeating, possibly combined with exces-
sive exercise and extreme concern about
body shape or weight.
*Substance use disorder refers to the
abuse of or dependence on alcohol, ille-
gal drugs, or prescription medications.