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Book Reviews   |    
Women's Mental Health: A Comprehensive Textbook
Reviewed by Leslie Hartley Gise, M.D.
Psychiatric Services 2003; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.54.1.117
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edited by Susan G. Kornstein and Anita H. Clayton; New York, Guilford Press, 2002, 638 pages, $65

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If you want a comprehensive reference book on women's mental health, this 638-page volume, edited by two women, would not be a bad place to start. The strength of this book is that it is like a little encyclopedia.

Women's Mental Health is a welcome addition to the number of new textbooks addressing gender issues and would be a good starting point for getting an overall familiarity with a topic. The heavy referencing is a major asset. The scope is comprehensive, covering historical features as well as both psychological and biological perspectives. The 37 chapters are brief but cover a lot and maintain striking readability. A few chapters include tables that are useful for organizing large amounts of data. Some of the authors are among the best known names in the field.

Of the 72 authors, 57 (80 percent) are women. Case examples are not used, and the book is less clinical than other texts. There is some redundancy—for example, the chapter on anxiety addresses the effects of pregnancy, and the chapter on pregnancy addresses the effects of anxiety. However, this repetition is useful for such neglected topics.

The division of the book into five sections works well. The first section addresses the psychobiology of women and the reproductive life cycle and sets the stage for the next four sections. The second section focuses on gender differences in the major psychiatric disorders and includes a chapter on complementary and alternative medicine. A chapter on body dysmorphic disorder supplements the chapter on somatoform disorders. The third section considers psychiatric consultation but does not address the psychology of medical illness or typical consultation requests from obstetrics and gynecology, such as evaluating fitness and safety for motherhood. Neither does it integrate the relationship between psychiatry and other medical specialties or the stress and conflicts for physicians caring for women that affect the consultation process and women's health care.

The fourth section is called "Sociocultural Issues for Women" but includes psychology. A biopsychosocial perspective appears with a discussion of psychological sequelae of long-term medical complications among diabetic women but is absent with the omission of the biology of the trauma response. The important topics of lesbians, women of color, and aging are included. Some sections on conditions that affect women more than men, such as plastic surgery and multiple sclerosis, do not specifically address gender issues. Finally, the fifth section contains an elegant review of issues for research and a consideration of policy issues primarily related to women of childbearing age.

Women's Mental Health focuses on what is known and the mainstream point of view rather than on major controversies in the field of women's health and mental health. The focus seems to be the presentation of the information and not primarily critique or interpretation, which is both a strength and a weakness. The strength is that the information is there for the reader to synthesize and interpret. The weakness is that the uninformed reader is not given guidance on interpretation of data.

Dr. Gise is affiliated with the John A. Burns School of Medicine at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu.




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