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A project of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health
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Mental Health
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The U.S. government and women's health

Government in action on mental health

Women's Mental Health Initiative

Project leader: Adrienne M. Smith, Ph.D., M.S., C.H.E.S.

The Office on Women's Health (OWH) has partnered with the Office of the Surgeon General (OSG), the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE), and the Office of Minority Health (OMH), to assess the state of the science regarding mental health issues affecting women and girls. The Women's Mental Health Initiative (WMHI) was initiated to explore sex and gender differences in mental health and gain a better understanding of the role mental health plays in the overall health of our Nation's women and girls. The goals of this Initiative are to:

  1. Promote awareness of mental health issues affecting women across the lifecycle;
  2. Address major gender differences among mental illnesses and sensitivities to care;
  3. Provide direction for health professionals and consumers on the identification, prevention, and treatment of mental illnesses in relation to women; and
  4. Provide an understanding of the role of mental health in women's physical health.

The WMHI has consisted of several background activities. These have included a concept mapping exercise; key-informant interviews with mental health experts and leaders; facilitated discussions with local providers, consumers, advocates, and decision-makers; and a targeted literature review. From these activities, a Surgeon General's Workshop on Women's Mental Health was convened to bring together experts from the consumer, academic, advocacy, health care delivery, health insurance, program planning, and policy planning communities to address critical issues affecting the mental health of women and girls and make recommendations for the production of communiqués and toolkits. Two documents were developed based on these recommendations: Action Steps for Improving Women's Mental Health (PDF, 4.2 Mb), and the consumer, companion booklet, Women's Mental Health: What It Means to You (PDF, 5.8 Mb).

Action Steps for Improving Women's Mental Health combines the science with distinct action items addressing gender-focused mental wellness from a public health perspective. This document addresses the burden of mental disorders (including workforce and economic issues); the special risks and prevalence for women and girls; and issues across the lifespan and family/intergeneration effects. This action plan is recommended for researchers, health professionals and administrators.

Women's Mental Health: What it means to you is for the general public, with clear, concise, and visually interesting information. The goal of this consumer, companion booklet is to present key messages aggregated from the Action Steps for Improving Women's Mental Health, as a consumer guide. These messages have been tested with culturally diverse consumer audiences in focus group settings and from the consumer networks represented at the workshop, and reflect an overall tone that is positive - to help promote mental health, understanding, positive behaviors, and address fear and stigma.

Content last updated March 29, 2010.

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