Mental health of women and girls in developing countries

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Helpdesk Query:

To provide a desk based literature review focused on the mental health of women and girls in developing countries.

Summary:

Gender is a critical determinant of mental health and mental illness. Gender dictates the differential power and control men and women have over the socioeconomic determinants of their mental health and lives. These determinants include their social position, their access to resources, their status and treatment in society and their susceptibility and exposure to gender-specific mental health risks, such as pregnancy. There are also wide ranging gender differences in the rates, risk factors and treatment of common mental disorders, such as depression, anxiety and somatic complaints. Evidence suggests a prevailing gender bias particularly in the treatment of mental health. Health services for women tend to focus on their reproductive functions, and thus neglect the needs of women outside reproductive ages. Gender stereotyping of women as prone to emotional problems and men as more likely of having alcohol problems hinders accurate treatment. A lack of female personnel further prevents women from utilising medical services.

Detecting and treating mental illness in women and girls requires a multisectoral approach and mainstreaming of mental health issues within women’s health and child and adolescent health policies, health programmes and research agenda.  The WHO maintains that effective strategies cannot be gender neutral as the risk factors themselves are gender specific. Improvements in women’s status are likely to bring about improvements in women’s mental health. Multi-level dialogue and local-global partnership is essential to facilitate an inclusive and locally-sensitive approach to tackling mental health issues.

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