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Women’s Mental Health Disparities 2023

Visionary women psychologists, Dr. Emily Mudd, Dr. E. Kitch Childs, and Dr. Jean Lau Chin

Visionary women psychologists, Dr. Emily Mudd, Dr. E. Kitch Childs, and Dr. Jean Lau Chin

Women’s History Month is a time for us to reflect on the unique experience of women in our history. It is a time to evaluate how that experience has shaped our present reality, and what the implications are for offering programs and services that are both relevant and supportive of women. It is also a time to reflect on women’s mental health disparities.

History of Oppression against Women

There is a long history of oppression against women in the US. Women struggled for 80 years to win the right to vote. This struggle culminated in the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution in 1919, which stated, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

The right to vote was not the end of the struggle for women’s liberation by any means, and the disparities in experience in various life domains are still negatively impacting women today. Women are more likely to experience gender-based violence, have greater responsibility for child rearing, earn less for the same work, and have less bodily autonomy. These experiences create formidable barriers to women’s health and wellness, including women’s mental health.

Council for Relationships Founder Dr. Emily Hartshorne Mudd

CFR Founder, Dr. Emily Hartshorne Mudd

Council for Relationships’ Continued Role in Women’s History

Women’s History Month is a great time to reflect on the types of services that are available to support women and where the gaps lie. Dr. Emily Mudd founded the Marriage Council of Philadelphia (what is now Council for Relationships, or CFR) in 1932, to help couples build healthier relationships and provide women with information on birth control. At the time, the field was so new that only two other organizations were doing similar work in the US, and no training programs existed for marriage counselors. Under Dr. Mudd’s direction, the Marriage Council became the first center in the country to establish a program to evaluate the effectiveness of counseling.

Dr. Mudd was a champion of women’s rights and a pioneer of couple and family counseling. Her expertise in working with women to explore their intimate relationships made her a trusted consultant to renowned doctors and therapists such as William Masters and Virginia Johnson. Dr. Mudd published five marriage counseling textbooks and continued to see clients into her eighties, although she formally retired from CFR in 1967. Dr. Mudd left a legacy in individual, couple, and family therapy that CFR continues today.

Entrance to the Stephen Klein Wellness Center

Stephen Klein Wellness Center in North Philadelphia

Bridging Women’s Mental Health Disparities with CFR’s Women’s Psychological Health Services

CFR subsequently developed the Women’s Psychological Health Services (WPHS) program to better address the unique set of psychological difficulties that women experience. WPHS brings together clinicians who specialize in women’s issues so we can provide the best care for women. Our services include individual counseling, couple and family therapy, sex therapy, and psychiatric medication treatment and referrals. Our therapists and psychiatrists help women with a range of issues including the following:

  • Cancer
  • Fertility
  • Menopause
  • Postpartum
  • Pregnancy and pregnancy loss
  • Premenstrual syndromes

Looking ahead, we are excited to be starting a new partnership with the Project H.O.M.E. Stephen Klein Wellness Center to bridge a gap in perinatal mental health support for the Center’s pregnant patients.  Project HOME’s primary health clinic supports pregnant people in North Philadelphia by providing affordable, high-quality integrated healthcare services. This includes Reproductive and Child Health services, provided by an interdisciplinary team that focuses on all perinatal, reproductive, and pediatric care between 0-2 years old.

Map of Philadelphia County with North Philadelphia highlighted

Map of Philadelphia County with North Philadelphia highlighted.

North Philadelphia’s Maternal Morbidity Crisis

Black women are three to four times more likely to experience a pregnancy-related death than white women. Maternal morbidity and mortality are especially high in North Philadelphia’s medically underserved 19121 and 19132 zip codes where the Stephen Klein Wellness Center is located. 81% of the people who live in these two zip codes identify as Black. Low birthweights, preterm births, infant mortality, and poor mental health are more prevalent in this area than anywhere else in Philadelphia.

From 2013 to 2018, Philadelphia reported 110 pregnancy-associated deaths with 54% of those deaths occurring during the postpartum period. Almost half of the people who died had a history of mental illness. 39% died because of an accidental overdose.

At CFR we value every community member and believe that all pregnant and parenting people deserve equitable, high-quality medical care. That is why CFR will provide individual and family therapy for Stephen Klein Wellness Center patients and psychiatric consultations for the Center’s medical team.

We All Have a Role to Play in Ending Women’s Mental Health Disparities

We invite you to join CFR this Women’s History Month (and all year long) and be a part of supporting women’s mental health. There are various actions that you can take that will positively impact the well-being of women. The following are just some of the actions you might consider taking with us:

  • Words of affirmation
  • Recognition of women’s ideas and skills in the workplace
  • Lending an ear
  • Providing tangible support (for example, childcare or transportation)
  • Sharing women’s resource information (for example, a women’s crisis hotline number or list of women’s mental health service providers)
  • Donating to organizations that provide specialty services for women like CFR, Project H.O.M.E., or Women Against Abuse

Every action you take to champion women’s mental health has a ripple effect because women’s well-being has a significant impact on children’s mental health. When women and children thrive, our community as a whole thrives. Join us in helping to end women’s mental health disparities.

Dr. Jeannine L. Lisitski, CEO of Council for Relationships

About the Author

Jeannine L. Lisitski, PhD, is the Chief Executive Office of the Council for Relationships. You may reach Dr. Lisitski at jlisitski@councilforrelationships.org or 215-382-6680 ext. 3220.

If you are looking for individual, couple, or family therapy or psychiatry, click here to request an appointment. See our Therapist & Psychiatrist Directory to find a CFR therapist or psychiatrist near you. If you have questions about WPHS services or would like assistance with a referral, please contact Jane Summers, MD.

About CFR’s Women’s Psychological Health Services

Women’s Psychological Health Services (WPHS) connects specially-trained clinicians to help women navigate mental health through all the stages of their lives.

Click here to learn more about WPHS.

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