International Women's Mental Health Consensus Statement Approved

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by DONNA E. STEWART

An international consensus statement calling for the prioritization of women’s mental health has been approved by the World Psychiatric Association (WPA). The International Women’s Mental Health Consensus Statement was signed by 140 WPA member associations at the XIII World Congress of Psychiatry in Cairo last September. It has also been endorsed by several other international organizations, including the World Federation of Mental Health.

The Statement recommends that professional mental health and health organizations and providers, governments, the United Nations system, the World Health Organization, other international health and social organizations and appropriate non-governmental organizations integrate girls’ and women’s mental health as a priority in policy and program development.

The initiative was born over a year ago, when 13 multidisciplinary leaders of other international mental health associations joined forces to draft an international document addressing women’s mental health needs.

While the overall rates of mental illness are similar in men and women, women’s unique roles in reproduction, the family and society, and their often lower socioeconomic status, necessitate special considerations for their mental health. The role of violence and discrimination in the genesis of mental health problems in women also requires particular attention. The Statement emphasizes that women’s mental health must be considered within the context of women’s lives and cannot be achieved without equal access to basic human rights. It is contingent upon the elimination of violence and discrimination based on sex, age, income, race, ethnic background, sexual orientation or religious beliefs. Better research, eradication of gender harassment, women’s choices in treatment, and safe and appropriate mental health care are also key determining factors.

Women’s mental health leaders around the world are now embarking on the next step, to monitor compliance with the Statement’s 11 recommendations. In Canada we have completed a survey of women’s mental health curricula in all of Canada’s Psychiatric Residency training programs, and received a grant from the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) to look at women’s mental health indicators in Canada, Peru and Columbia.

Donna E. Stewart led the International Women’s Mental Health Consensus Statement initiative in her role as President of the International Association of Women’s Mental Health and Chair of the Section of Women’s Mental Health of the World Psychiatric Association.

To read the International Women’s Mental Health Consensus Statement, visit: www.wpanet.org/bulletin/institutional36.doc

Leaders of mental health organizations who wish to endorse the Statement should contact Donna E. Stewart at: donna.stewart@uhn.on.ca.