Social inequality has damaging consequences for the mental and emotional well-being of women. Throughout their lives, women may be considered “at risk” of developing emotional problems due to a host of social factors. Limited participation in public life, restricted decision-making, devalued role expectations, poverty, violence and sexual abuse undermine the potential for emotional well-being. Social change is needed to strengthen the emotional well-being of women individually and collectively in society.
Mental Health Policy
All levels of government, federal, provincial and municipal, must develop and fund realistic community mental health services which are alternatives to traditional medical programs, are promotional and preventative in nature and include those focused specifically on the needs of women.
Training and Education of Mental Health Workers
Professionals in the mental health field should take at least one course on the mental health of women. The course(s) should include interdisciplinary contributions from as many groups as possible, such as physicians, consumers, nurses, psychologists, frontline workers, social workers, psychiatrists and educators. Curricula should make such course offerings mandatory.
Education must be considered in the broadest sense and at all levels, from kindergarten through professional and graduate work, including popular education and the education of those who work in print and broadcast media. Nonsexist curriculum materials should circulate broadly. Materials should present women in a wide variety of valued roles, including those which reflect leadership and social importance.
Since the woman who is a consumer of mental health services has unique insights based on experiential knowledge of the service system, women who have experienced the mental health system as consumers must be recruited actively to fill leadership positions in organizations, groups, and agencies that formulate mental health care policy, and those that deliver mental health care services.
Mental Health and the Health Care System
Services to women must be based on the fundamental principle that a woman’s mind and body belong to her. From this it becomes clear that problem-definition, health care, and its alternatives will be client-directed. Women’s normal life experiences are not usually medical conditions but are sociocultural in nature and should be addressed from that perspective. Services should be fully funded and should include treatment, education, information dissemination, and outreach. November 1995