Press Release

Depression Common Among Women,
But Few Seek Mental Health Services
Analysis of Landmark Womens Health Survey Provides
New Information on Women and Mental Health

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July 10, 2001 Washington, DC Depressive and anxiety symptoms are common among women. Access to care for psychological distress still remains a problem for many women, especially for minorities, those with less education and those without a usual source of health care. These are among the findings in "Psychological Distress, Unmet Need and Barriers to Mental Health Care for Women" by Cathy Donald Sherbourne, PhD, RAND Institute, Megan Dwight-Johnson, MD, MPH and Ruth Klap, PhD.

The paper, published by the Jacobs Institute of Womens Health in the May/June edition of Womens Health Issues, re-examines the Commonwealth Fund 1998 Survey of Womens Health, a leading source of information on the ways that womens circumstances, roles and responsibilities influence their health. The authors describe the characteristics of women in need of mental health services for depression or anxiety, and identify factors that relate to the reasons women do not get needed care.

"The high proportion of women who reported distress, but did not report need for mental health services, suggests that community education about depression and anxiety should be targeted toward helping distressed women recognize the benefits of treatment for such conditions," said Sherbourne. "Education should deal with myths and different cultural perspectives that impose barriers to seeking care."

"The Commonwealth Fund Survey contains a wealth of information, now being published for the first time, regarding the treatment and care of women," said Martha Romans, Executive Director of the Jacobs Institute. "These findings provide insight into depression among women and the critical need for education and mental health care."

Additional findings in the published paper include:

  • Nearly one in five women surveyed (19 percent) perceived the need to see a mental health professional for depression or anxiety within past year.
  • Of women who perceived the need to see a mental health professional for depression or anxiety, 42 percent did not see a health professional in the past year.
  • More than a third of women (35 percent) with an unmet need for mental health care cited a desire to handle their problems themselves.

To improve mental health care, the authors suggested:

  • To detect depression in those who are at highest risk (young, low income, minority women), a greater emphasis should be placed on depression screening in the public sector, including in primary care, family planning and pediatric clinics.
  • Patient education about depression and its treatment needs to be a part of the screening process.

Other papers in the May/June edition of Womens Health Issues address: womens health issues across the lifespan; the influence of income, education and work status on womens well being; motherhood, health status and health care; caregiving: challenges and implications for womens health; managed care and womens health: access, preventive services and satisfaction; midlife women making hormone therapy decisions; and prevalence of violence and its implications for womens health.

Womens Health Issues is the official publication of The Jacobs Institute of Womens Health, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the knowledge, practice and understanding of womens health by making Americas health care system work better for women. For the next few years, the Jacobs Institute is placing an emphasis on managed care, heart disease and menopause cutting edge issues that affect womens health and lives.


NOTE: Review copies of the articles are available to media from Ridgely Benjamin at 202/371-1999.

For Immediate Release

For more information contact:
Ridgely Benjamin