Lisa Ekselius: But why only women?

COLUMN

8 March 2020

WoMHeR is Uppsala University’s new centre focusing on women’s mental ill-health

WoMHeR is Uppsala University’s new centre focusing on treating and preventing women’s mental ill-health. “But why just women?” one may wonder. The answer is abundantly clear, writes Lisa Ekselius, Professor of Psychiatry and Senior Consultant Psychiatrist.

Why is it only women? I don’t know how many times I’ve been asked that question. And since the University Board decided, in December last year, to set up WoMHeR, the questions have come in increasingly thick and fast.

Lisa Ekselius, Uppsala University

“WoMHeR – what’s that?” The name is an abbreviation of “Women’s Mental Health during the Reproductive Lifespan”, and this newly established centre has the support of the Vice-Chancellor and all the disciplinary domains. Its purpose is to focus on the most widespread illness of our time: mental ill-health. The aim is to generate knowledge of its causes and of how to treat and prevent it.

But why just women? Well, because the worrying rise in mental ill-health in the population is most marked among women, especially young women. The differences between women’s and men’s mental health have long been known. Considerably more women suffer from depression and anxiety disorders, while problems with alcohol and drugs are more frequent among men.

Experiences in the child-bearing years have a huge impact on a woman’s life, in terms of both her social circumstances and equality of opportunity. Susceptibility to mental and physical ill-health increases during pregnancy and after childbirth. This is illustrated by the fact that figures for women’s sick leave rise markedly after the birth of the first child. Moreover, mental disturbances around the time of childbirth may have repercussions on the child’s attachment and emotional development.

At Uppsala University there are many researchers with unique research expertise in every discipline, and who are highly committed to research issues relating directly or indirectly to women’s mental ill-health. WoMHeR’s task is now to coordinate these forces to generate a strong interdisciplinary hub, and reinforce networks where complex research issues can be clarified from various angles. The goal is to obtain more evidence-based knowledge that can underpin future strategic decisions.

In publishing this article on 8 March 2020, we are celebrating International Women’s Day. Plans for a Women’s Day took shape back in the early 20th century, the first organisation to take action being the Socialist Party of America in 1909. This initiative was followed by many nations, with the primary purpose of pursuing policy issues. At the first United Nations World Conference on Women, in Mexico in 1975, the idea of designating an International Women’s Day was raised, and a few years later the UN General Assembly decided to do so. Since 8 March 1978, the International Women’s Day has been included on the United Nations’ list of observances.

An International Men’s Day, 19 November, was founded in 1999. This day focuses on men’s health and improving gender relations, and acts to highlight positive male role models. Who knows, perhaps one day there will also be a centre focusing on men’s mental health. That would surely be a good idea.

But this is about WoMHeR. And why only women, then? To me, it is abundantly clear.

Lisa Ekselius
Director of WoMHeR
Professor of Psychiatry and Senior Consultant Psychiatrist
Uppsala University
 

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