Review of "Psychiatric Illness in Women"

By Freda Lewis-Hall, Teresa S. Williams, Jill A. Panetta and John M. Herrera (editors)
American Psychiatric Association, 2002
Review by Yvonne Melia on Apr 25th 2003
Psychiatric Illness in Women

As Nancy Andreasen notes in the foreward to Psychiatric Illness in Women, historically research into the treatment or natural history of diseases has usually involved men, the "typical" patient physicians were taught to interview or treat was male and pharmacological treatments took a "one size fits all" approach.  Modern medicine is progressively acknowledging the need for idiosyncratic approaches to healthcare and the management of illness, both pharmacological, as evidenced in the advent of pharmacogenetics, and other. 

Psychiatric Illness in Women provides an overview of the current understanding of sex differences in the onset, presentation, course and treatment of mental illnesses. The text concerns itself with the primary psychiatric illnesses: anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, Schizophrenia, dementia and their respective related disorders.  Additional topics are included on PTSD; substance use disorders; dissociative disorders; serotonin neuronal function in anorexia and bulimia nervosa; pharmacological management of psychiatric illness in pregnancy; and: women, ethnicity and psychopharmacology. 

Overall, I found the book to be an excellent resource for clinicians and researchers alike.  For clinicians, as just one example of its utility, chapter 24 on the pharmacological management of psychiatric illness during pregnancy provides a review of studies of teratogenic risk, long-term neurobehavioural sequelae and direct neonatal toxicity of the psychotropic medications, along with treatment guidelines for use of these drugs in pregnancy.  The sex specific differences that are outlined (for example, in chapter 20 on the effects of victimisation and PTSD on substance use disorders and in chapter 19 concerning caregiver burden and stress and coping mechanisms in female caregivers in Alzheimer's Disease) also provide excellent starting blocks for more ecologically valid approaches to the non-pharmacological management of psychiatric illness in women, for example, in terms of designing interventions and determining the appropriateness of those selected.

In addition, chapters end with a conclusion that summarises gaps in existing knowledge or any points of contention in the evidence base, and some chapters even go so far as to include 'need for future research' summaries (e.g. chapter 1 on sex differences in anxiety disorders). Furthermore, some chapters provide both excellent reviews of a given area along with details of the methodological shortcomings of research in that field, for instance, the chapter by Hoff and Kremen on sex differences in neurocognitive function in schizophrenia. Cumulatively, for researchers, an excellent starting point is therefore provided for designing research that can both contribute to the evidence base for psychiatric illness, and avoid shortcomings of design that weaken its representativeness to the populations of interest.

My only criticism of the book, and it is a minor one, is that some of the sections, particularly the one on schizophrenia, include chapters on seemingly discrete topics that in reality have some overlap in content.  As a book apparently aimed at providing a summary of current knowledge on sex differences in psychiatric illness, this can be problematic, as different authors will evidently draw on different evidence bases or aspects of these evidence bases, and may draw different interpretations or arrive at different conclusions from studies, which overall can lessen the usefulness of the book as a reference guide. 

However, aside from this one point, the book is a fascinating read, and accessible to a range of audiences, lay and professional alike. 


© 2003 Yvonne Melia

Yvonne Melia writes about herself:


I have a first degree in Applied Psychology, with a Postgraduate Diploma in Clinical Neuroscience and am presently employed as Research Associate for the UK Brain Injury Rehabilitation Trust.  


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