When the world of health policy and public health considers the health of women, one tendency is first and foremost to link the well-being of women to that of children and the family, and, legitimately, to the health of society overall. Although this perspective is well-founded given that the health of women is well documented to have a positive impact on the general health of all members of a society, too often a common focus among health policy decision makers is to emphasize maternal and child health. Women’s health within the policy domain is often defined as reproductive health and identified with women’s children’s health. Family planning efforts, inspired by the theory that overpopulation is a major impediment to development, have dispensed contraceptives in the interests of reducing fertility, but often ignored women’s needs for information about, and control over, reproductive processes. More recently, clinical trials of AZT during pregnancy have focused on reducing the transmission of HIV from infected mothers to their newborns, but financial constraints have limited efforts to provide AZT for mothers after pregnancy.
Comparative analysis of empirical studies of mental disorders reveals a consistency across diverse societies and social contexts: symptoms of depression and anxiety as well as unspecified psychiatric disorder and psychological distress are more prevalent among women, whereas substance disorders are more prevalent among men. The disability-adjusted life years data recently tabulated by the World Bank reflect these differences.(5) Depressive disorders account for close to 30 percent of the disability from neuropsychiatric disorders among women, but only 12.6 percent of that among men. Conversely, alcohol and drug dependence accounts for 31 percent of neuropsychiatric disability among men, but accounts for only 7 percent of the disability among women.