The Medical Women’s Federation kicked off Mental Health Awareness week in the afterglow of a magnificent May meeting in Cardiff. As an active MWF member for over 25 years, I can vouch for it as a purposeful and integrated network of women doctors that remains progressively relevant in todays' medical working climate. As medical women we have tremendous power to change lives - not just ours, but our family’s, our society’s and that of our patients’. The function of MWF as a supportive network is in keeping with the Personal Wellbeing Networks, which is highlighted in this month’s British Journal of Psychiatry as increasing our social capital and improving even severe mental illness.
While mental health illnesses can affect both sexes, it is well known that some are more common in women, such as mood disorders and eating disorders being clear examples. Depression will rate as one of the major burdens of healthcare in the 2020's and yet the provision of mental health services remains a postcode lottery. Whilst applauding 'mental health awareness', this initiative needs to be matched with an equivalent sustainable provision of service, as mental health resources remain consistently underfunded. Child and Adolescent services are one of the most neglected. Self-harm in girls is increasing, as are eating disorders. Netflix was condemned this week for airing a series glamourising teenage suicide in the exam season when this phenomenon peaks.
Research undertaken by the Mental Health Foundation has found that 74% of adults have felt so stressed at some point over the last year that they felt overwhelmed and unable to cope. The percentage was even higher among women and those aged between 18 to 24 years old. 47,000 people were detained under the Mental Health Act last year, a massive increase over the past 5 years. This is due to shortcomings, particularly lack of beds and consistently underfunded care in the community and social care. This contributes to the enormous burden that is placed on families in wider society, and as dementia increases with longevity, women will be most affected, as we live, on average 5 years longer than men. Women are the primary care givers looking after children for up to 17 years and then spending up to another 17 years looking after parents.
Women in a quarter of the UK are still missing out on vital maternal mental health services. The Maternal Mental Health Alliance has produced a series of maps which show current specialist perinatal mental health provision for women across the UK. Mother and baby facilities are disparate throughout the UK, mainly concentrated in the South, even though the need to expand geographically has been highlighted to the Department of Health. The Duchess of Cambridge visited the Perinatal Mental Health service at the South London and Maudsley Trust and highlighted that women's health services must be prioritised.
The MWF harbours a wealth of expertise, as Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, our newly inaugurated President, is an internationally renowned expert within the field. Dr Bowden-Jones appeared on BBC Breakfast this week to speak on the new announcement that gambling machines fixed bets will be reduced to £2 instead of £100. Dr Roz Ramsey, former MWF Honorary Secretary, has just coedited a book – ‘The Female Mind: a user's guide’ - which examines how gender affects mental health.
As medical women we have tremendous power to change lives - not just ours, but our family’s, our society’s and that of our patients’. There are integral factors that women face in the modern medical life, including pregnancy, work-life balance, pressures on the NHS, along with increasingly working in isolation. The recent edition of Medical Woman - 'The Flexible Issue' - is a marvellous read that explores a variety of these important areas, such as coping with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and articles on labour, stress, and work-life balance. Members of MWF receive our bi-annual publications of Medical Woman, and I highly recommend this issue to all.
Our inclusivity, mutual encouragement and mentoring of younger members, whilst promoting career progression and getting our message across, ensures MWF safeguards against and acts as the perfect antidote to stress.
If you are not yet a member of the largest body of women doctors in the UK, click here to join us today!
Dr Amanda Owen is the MWIA National Co-Ordinator and a Retired Psychiatrist.