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Definitions of mental disorder are undergoing significant change as we enter a new century. These definitions, as we have seen, are highly gendered. In the past, symptoms and behaviour associated with women were more easily defined as mental illness than those which were associated with men. This led not only to a higher level of diagnosis and treatment among women, but also to service planning and development based on deeply rooted stereotypical notions of male and female mental health experiences and behaviours associated with these experiences. As a result, women were overrepresented and men underrepresented in psychiatric statistics, trends that have had a negative effect on the lives of both men and women. One result has been the medicalisation of certain aspects of womens’ lives, aspects that require changes in social structures and individual circumstances to remove the causes of the particular stresses, rather than medical intervention of any kind. Other results have been the overuse of medication by women to help them to cope with their ‘problems of living’ (Szasz 1961, 1971) and the clouding of issues relating to the oppressive or unhappy life conditions under which many of these women have lived. This is not to deny that a proportion of women have genuine mental health problems, some of which need medical treatment, but instead to suggest that an approach that overmedicalised women’s lives has not restored a great many of these women to full mental health.

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Jo Campling

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© 1999 Pauline M. Prior

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Prior, P.M. (1999). A Final Word. In: Campling, J. (eds) Gender and Mental Health. Palgrave, London.

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