It was only a matter of time until I began to question how pharmacological and psychosocial treatments could be modified to fit the unique physiological and psychosocial needs of women.
Women with severe mental illness face unique challenges. While trying to manage incapacitating symptoms, they remain responsible for raising children, maintaining community and meeting educational and occupational goals. In addition, women’s bodies have unique needs. For instance, female brain chemistry changes on a daily basis. These hormonal fluctuations add further changes to mood, behaviors and cognitive resources that may already be compromised by symptoms of a severe mental illness.
Given these issues, I felt confident that my explorations would lead me towards a myriad of research and resources on how to address the needs of severely mentally ill women. I was looking forward to connecting with professionals, community organizations and outreach programs addressing housing, childcare, treatment, and women-specific health needs.
As of this writing I sit disappointed in front of an almost empty folder, which was to hold these discoveries.
Why this paucity of awareness and resources?
I believe that those I treat are some of the most discarded members of our society. In general these are women of color, struggling with severe mental illness, substance addiction, homelessness and criminal histories. It seems that their unique struggles and needs – and most importantly their humanness - have largely gone unnoticed.
The goals and dreams of these women are similar to those of the mothers, daughters and professional women we all know. It is time to raise awareness and provide resources that serve their unique needs.
It is time for researchers to ask questions related to mental health that are sensitive to gender, and for the funding agencies to support these goals. It is time for cities and counties to become more cognizant of the changing demographics of homeless populations, and to support community agencies with resources for these women. And, it is time for practitioners on the frontlines, be they in prisons, hospitals or community clinics, to incorporate the slowly growing body of knowledge about the care of women with severe mental illness.
It is with these deliberate steps that I hope we can address the needs of this population before they end up discarded and behind bars.