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Improvements in mental health care for women

The first Surgeon General's report on mental health was released in 1999.1 Since then, awareness of the societal burden of mental illness, and the need for equitable treatment of it alongside physical health concerns, has increased. HHS, with leadership from SAMHSA and CMS, implements mental health parity laws to ensure that insurers cannot discriminate against those with mental illness by covering mental health treatments at a lower level than physical health concerns.2, 3

Mental health research, including research funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and other parts of NIH, has highlighted gender differences in mental health and the greater burden women face from several types of mental illness. Major depressive disorder affects women twice as often as men, and 1 in 5 women develop a major depressive disorder in her lifetime.4 Women also have higher rates of other mental health issues, such as anxiety, PTSD, and eating disorders.5

One mental health treatment advance occurred in 1987 when the FDA first approved a new class of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). SSRIs were a breakthrough in depression treatment because they tend to have fewer side effects and are easier to take.6 After SSRIs were introduced, antidepressant prescriptions greatly increased, with the majority of them being for SSRIs and other newer antidepressant medications.7

In 2009, OWH coordinated the Women's Mental Health Initiative and published the report Action Steps for Improving Women's Mental Health. Along with the release of the Federal Mental Health Action Agenda in 2009, led by SAMHSA, the federal government took steps forward in recognizing mental illness in women and removing barriers to treatment and care. Also, every other year, SAMHSA releases its Mental Health, United States report on the state of mental health services.

Today the 2010 Affordable Care Act provides one of the largest expansions of mental health and substance use disorder coverage in a generation, requiring Health Insurance Marketplace plans to cover these services.8 These new protections build on the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act to expand mental health benefits and parity protections to 62 million Americans.


  1. OSG, Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General
  2. SAMHSA, Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity
  3. CMS, The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act
  4. NIH, NIMH, Women and Depression: Discovering Hope
  5. OSG, Surgeon General's Workshop on Women's Mental Health: November 30-December 1, 2005, Denver, Colorado
  6. NIH, NIMH, Depression
  7. Pirraglia, PA, Stafford, RS, Singer, DE. (2003). Trends in Prescribing of Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors and Other Newer Antidepressant Agents in Adult Primary CarePrim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry; 5(4): 153-157
  8., Health Insurance and Mental Health Services