Women, Gender and Mental Health and Addictions

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  • Why sex and gender matter in mental health and addictions
  • Women, gender, mental illness and addictions in Canada
  • Women and psychotropic drugs
  • Women and addictions
  • Violence, trauma and mental health
  • Women living in rural and remote settings
  • Links to government programs and resources

Why sex and gender matter in mental health and addictions

1. There are sex- and gender-specific differences in the types and prevalence of certain mental health conditions.

2. Many mental health conditions which appear gender-neutral are not.

3. Women and men seek different types of care.

4. There are sex-specific differences in the metabolism and effects of psychotropic drugs.

5. Women are prescribed more psychotropic drugs.

6. Gender roles in society can also have an impact on mental health.

The following collection of Canadian resources provides an introduction to the subject of women, gender, mental illness and addictions

For more information: The CWHN databases, from which these resources are drawn, are updated regularly with new resources. For more information about women, gender, mental health, mental illness and addictions please search our databases with terms such as: “mental health,” and “addictions.” You can then use an advanced search to drill down to more specialized topics such as “poverty and mental health,” “violence and mental health,” “Aboriginal women and mental health,” “women living with disabilities and mental health,” “immigrant women and mental health,” etc.
Search our database here.

Women, gender, mental illness and addictions in Canada

Sex, Gender and Measures of Mental Health
By Cara Tannenbaum, in Rising to the Challenge: Sex‑ and gender‑based analysis for health planning, policy and research in Canada, pp. 96-103, Atlantic Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health, 2009
Applies a gender lens to existing evidence on mental health, in order to inform policy on the use of new gender‑sensitive health indicators in future gender equality health planning initiatives.

Women, Mental Health, Mental Illness and Addiction in Canada: An Overview (Updated and Revised Edition)
By CWHN’s Ad Hoc Working Group on Women, Mental Health, Substance Use and Addictions, 2008
Discusses why sex and gender matter in mental health and addictions and includes information and recommendations for the new Mental Health Commission of Canada. Originally published in May 2006 prior to the tabling of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology’s final report Out of the Shadows at Last: Transforming Mental Health, Mental Illness, and Addiction Services in Canada.

The Need for a Gender-Sensitive Approach to the Mental Health of Young Canadians
By the Girls Action Foundation, 2008
Illustrates the need to take gender and other intersecting forms of diversity into account to meet the needs of Canada’s young people by examining how mental health outcomes are affected by social and economic characteristics.

Women, Gender and Mental Health: Moving out of the Shadows
By the Canadian Women’s Health, Network, Fall/Winter 2007, Volume 10, Number 1
Discusses the CWHN national workshop that brought together researchers, community-based service providers and educators, non-governmental organizations and policy makers interested and active in gender-based and women’s mental health issues to explore the mandate of the newly formed Mental Health Commission of Canada, and to establish strategies for ensuring women are not left out of the picture.

Still in the Shadows: Kirby Report Turns a Blind Eye to Women
By Laila Malik, Network, Winter 2006/2007, Volume 9, Number 1/2
Discusses the gender gaps in the 2006 Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science, and Technology’s final report, Out of the Shadows at Last and argues for a systematic gender review of mental health, mental illness and substance use in Canada.

Improving Conditions: Integrating Sex and Gender into Federal Mental Health and Addictions Policy
By Amy Salmon, Nancy Poole, Marina Morrow, Lorraine Greaves, Richard Ingram and Ann Pederson for the British Columbia Centre of Excellence in Women’s Health, 2006
Examines factors across the lifespan that demonstrate why an examination of sex differences and gender influences is crucial to any policy work in mental health and substance use.

Mental Health and Addictions in Women
Centres of Excellence for Women’s Health, Research Bulletin, Spring 2006, Volume 5, Number 1
A special issue which brings together 9 Canadian case studies examining sex, gender and women's health in relation to mental health and problematic substance use.

The International Consensus Statement on Women’s Mental Health
By Donna E. Stewart, World Psychiatry, February 2006, Volume 5, Number 1, pages 61–64
Created in March 2004 at the Second World Congress on Women’s Mental Health in Washington, this consensus statement (which describes the issues and provides recommendations) was approved by the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association by December 2004 and then rapidly approved by a number of national and international mental health associations, NGOs and individuals.

Mainstreaming Women’s Mental Health: Building a Canadian Strategy
By Marina Morrow for the British Columbia Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health, 2003
Briefly reviews the evidence with respect to sex and gender differences in mental health as they pertain to women. Provides recommendations for a national women's mental health strategy.

Demonstrating Progress: Innovations in Women’s Mental Health
By Marina Morrow for the British Columbia Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health, 2003
Describes and evaluates four mental health demonstration projects designed for women with chronic and persistent mental health problems in four different communities in British Columbia.

Hearing Voices: Mental Health Care for Women
By Marina Morrow and Monika Chappell for the British Columbia Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health, 1999
Examines women's mental health concerns and looks at some of the debates taking place in the mental health reform process. Offers recommendations to meet women's needs and concerns.

Women and Mental Health in Canada: Strategies for Change
By the Canadian Mental Health Association, April 1987
Using the Pan American Health Organization’s key guidelines and strategies for the development of policy and programming related to women’s health and mental health needs, this historic document explores women’s mental health in Canada.

Gender and Women’s Mental Health
World Health Organization
Discusses gender disparities and mental health, gender specific risk factors, gender bias and women’s mental health.

Women and psychotropic drugs

The Marketization of Depression: The Prescribing of SSRI Antidepressants to Women
By Janet Currie for Women and Health Protection, 2005
Looks at the impact of SSRI use among Canadian women. Reviews what is currently known about the benefits and harms caused by SSRIs, as well as both the definition and incidence of depression in women.

Women and addictions

Highs & Lows: Canadian Perspectives on Women and Substance Use
By Lorraine Greaves and Nancy Poole, Network, Spring/Summer 2008, Volume 10, Number 2
Discusses substance use among girls and women in Canada. Looks at what substances Canadian women use, what are the gendered influences on women's substance use, and what are the challenges.

A Motherhood Issue: Discourses on Mothering Under Duress
By Lorraine Greaves, Colleen Varcoe, Nancy Poole, Marina Morrow, Joy Johnson, Ann Pederson, Lori Irwin for Status of Women Canada, 2002
Investigates how situations of mothering under duress are discussed in Canadian policy documents, media portrayals and women’s experiences with an emphasis on the province of British Columbia.

Substance Use and Pregnancy: Conceiving Women in the Policy Process
By Deborah Rutman, Marilyn Callahan, Audrey Lundquist, Suzanne Jackson and Barbara Field for Status of Women Canada, 2000
Examines how policy in Canada deals with the issue of substance use during pregnancy and suggests alternative ways of addressing this problem that may prove less polarizing and punitive toward women.

Violence, trauma and mental health

Violence and Trauma in the Lives of Women With Serious Mental Illness: Current Practices in Service Provision in British Columbia
By Marina Morrow, British Columbia Centre for Excellence in Women's Health, 2002
Documents the practice in different mental health care settings with respect to the provision of services to women with chronic and persistent mental health problems who are survivors of violence.

Women living in rural and remote settings

Rural and Remote Women and the Kirby-Keon Report on Mental Health: A Preliminary Gender-Place Analysis
By Jayne Melville Whyte and Joanne Havelock for the Prairie Women’s Health Centre of Excellence, 2007
Analyzes the Highlights and Recommendations of Out of the Shadows at Last with a gender-place lens focused on women living in rural and remote areas in Saskatchewan.

Links to government programs and resources

Out of the Shadows at Last: Transforming Mental Health, Mental Illness and Addiction Services in Canada
By The Senate of Canada. The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology Report on Mental Health, Mental Illness and Addictions, 2006
The first national report on mental health in Canada. Among the report's many recommendations is the creation of a mental health commission to act as a catalyst for change. Does not use a sex- and gender-based analysis.

Mental Health Commission of Canada
A non-profit organization created to focus national attention on mental health issues and to work to improve the health and social outcomes of people living with mental illness.