Depression and Improving Women's Mental Health

Teri Robert Health Guide
  • Action Steps for Improving Women's Mental Health has been released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office on Women's Health (OWH), providing information and tools that are helpful for women with depression or other mental health issues.


    This 64-page report brings together the most recent research, resources, products, and tools on mental health issues in women and explores the role gender plays in diagnosing, treating, and coping with mental illness. It also points to resilience and social support systems as key factors in overcoming mental health issues.


    In an interview with CNN, Wanda Jones, Dr.P.H., health scientist and director of the OWH, made several points:1

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    • Previous reports have focused on bringing mental health to attention; this report focuses on specific mental health issues specific to women.
    • Reasons for the gender disparities in mental health still are not clear. Certainly part is based on biology -- women's hormones, thyroid disease, and brain chemistry have all been suggested as potential reasons. Other things that play a part include genetics and socio-cultural reasons.
    • The "one-size-fits-all" approach to diagnosis and treatment is not effective.
    • There is a dire need for early detection and treatment of mental health conditions in young women. "When these young people grow into adults, they're more likely to end up in the criminal justice system, homeless on the streets, poor performers in school and ultimately bounced into a system that's incapable of helping them with their needs."
    • Regarding the stigma surrounding women's mental health issues, "We 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."
    • Societal attitudes often pressure women into accepting their mental health issues as "just how things are." Jones says it's a barrier that keeps women from seeking treatment for an otherwise largely treatable disease.

    The best way of reporting what this report contains is to share with you the Executive Summary from the report itself:2

    Since the publication of Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General in 1999, an increasing body of evidence from the research base, public policy analysis, consumer advocacy, and health care practice has underscored the critical importance of mental health to the overall health of women—and to our Nation as a whole. Many advances have been made in our understanding of mental illnesses, effective treatments, and promising approaches for promoting mental health, resilience, and fulfilling lives for those living with mental illnesses. A key component of this progress has been the increased understanding of the critical role of gender in the risks, course, and treatment of mental illnesses. New research findings also have pointed to the effectiveness of a growing array of treatment options for mental illnesses and of a new model of treatment that is recovery-oriented, strengths-based, and includes the active participation of individuals in their treatment.


    The recent advances in the science and practice of women’s mental health provide an unprecedented opportunity to address the burden of mental illnesses on women’s lives and increase the capacity for recovery. However, for this knowledge to be effective, it must be translated into tangible actions that can promote change and support progress to improve the mental and overall health of our Nation’s women and girls. Thus, this report proposes the following actions:

    • Promote the widespread understanding that women’s mental health is an essential part of their overall health.

    • Improve the interface of primary care and mental health services for women.

    • Accelerate research to increase the knowledge base of the role of gender in mental health and to reduce the burden of mental illnesses in both women and men.

    • Increase gender and cultural diversity in academic research and medicine.

    • Support efforts to track the mental health, distress, and well-being of women and girls in national, State, and large community-based surveillance systems.

    • Decrease the amount of time it requires to translate research findings on women’s mental health into practice.

    • Recognize the unique prevalence of trauma, violence, and abuse in the lives and mental health of girls, women, and female veterans. Address their effects and support promising new approaches that enhance recovery.

    • Address the cultural and social disparities that place women at greater risk for certain mental illnesses by including considerations of these disparities in diagnosis and intervention and by investigating ways to increase cultural competence in treatment approaches.

    • Promote a recovery-oriented, strengths-based approach to treatment for women promulgated by the recommendations of the President’s New Freedom Commission.

    • Build resilience and protective factors to promote the mental health of girls and women and aid recovery.

    • Meet the mental health needs of girls and young women as part of overall health care.

    • Incorporate gender issues and considerations in emergency preparedness and disaster planning, including mental health issues.


  • Summary and Comments:

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    This report is sorely needed. I encourage everyone to copy it to your computer and read it yourself. You can download it in pdf format HERE. Read it yourself, and share it with the people in your life who need to have a better understanding of depression and other mental health diseases and conditions.


    I couldn't help noticing the phrase "mental illness" in the CNN article and on the OWH web site, yet the stigma of mental health issues is mentioned both places. The media, government agencies, and everyone else for that matter, need to recognize the power of words. "Mental illness" is a phrase that still raises the specter of stigma. "Mental health issues" or "mental health diseases and conditions" are more positive and less stigmatizing.


    A second report from the OWH, Women's Mental Health: What it means to you is also well worth reading.





    1 Abedin, Shahreen. "New report underscores women's mental illness concerns." May 8, 2009.


    2Action Steps for Improving Women's Mental Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office on Women's Health. March, 2008.




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    © Teri Robert, 2009. Last updated January 4, 2009.


Published On: May 13, 2009