Book

Women's Mental Health: A Comprehensive Textbook

BMJ 2002; 325 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.325.7358.285/a (Published 03 August 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;325:285
  1. Helen Pattison
  1. University of Birmingham

    Eds Susan G Kornstein, Anita H Clayton

    The Guilford Press, £49.95, pp 638


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    ISBN 1 57230 699 8

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    Why is it necessary to have a book on women's mental health? Simply, because there are sex differences and gender differences between men and women's health, which mean that women's illness is researched, diagnosed, and treated differently from men's. Sometimes this is justifiable on clinical grounds—for example, gender roles have an impact on the presentation of schizophrenia; sometimes it is not—for example, gender stereotyping has an impact on the diagnosis of cardiovascular disease.

    In this book there is an often impressive attempt to chart what we know about mental health and illness in women. Inevitably such an ambitious project, accomplished by so many authors, is not entirely successful, not only because the quality of contributions is variable but also because each of the areas covered would warrant a book in its own right. So, for example, the chapter on pregnancy concentrates on the effects of pregnancy on women with existing mental illness and one is left wanting to know far more about how it affects the mental health of other women.

    This is a reference book designed to be consulted on particular areas rather than read from cover to cover. When it is read from cover to cover, one can see inconsistencies in approach, in the tightness of argument, and even in language, which presumably arise from a rather light editorial touch. To talk about, for example, “gender differences… in animals” (p 31) reveals an unacceptable sloppiness. To concentrate on the weaknesses of this book might seem churlish when it offers so much up to date material. However, the book blurs sex, gender, race, ethnic, cultural, social, political, and economic issues, and it is probably at its least coherent on sociocultural issues. “Women of color” is used as a blanket term for those who are of “minority” groups and who are not of “white, European, Christian ethnic groups” (p 570), regardless of their economic, linguistic, religious, or residential status. To lump together African American women born in the United States with women newly arrived from rural Pakistan, for example, clearly does a disservice to both.

    This book is firmly centred on the US experience, and this will limit its value to an international readership, particularly on matters of management and health policy. These criticisms aside, this book will provide a valuable resource.

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