American Psychiatric Association

May 4, 2024 | View Online | Psychiatric News

Expert Discusses Overcoming Challenges in Advocating for Women

Women comprise over half of the population in the United States, and they also make up a significant portion of APA’s membership. Yet, despite these numbers, women are still unequally represented in leadership positions in medicine, academia, and politics, explained Ludmila De Faria, M.D., this year’s recipient of the Alexandra Symonds Award.

De Faria spoke during her award lecture at APA’s Annual Meeting today. She is the chair of APA’s Committee on Women’s Mental Health and an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Florida. The Alexandra Symonds Award was established in 1997 to honor a woman psychiatrist who has made significant contributions to promoting women’s health and the advancement of women.

Last July, APA’s Board of Trustees approved the creation of the Council on Women’s Mental Health, which will replace the Committee on Women’s Mental Health at the conclusion of the Annual Meeting. “By creating the council, the Board of Trustees recognizes the need for more resources and visibility for the work that the Committee on Women’s Mental Health has already been doing for the last three years,” De Faria said after the Board’s vote.


According to APA’s website, the Council on Women’s Mental Health is responsible for “prioritizing and advancing clinical knowledge and research related to the diagnosis and treatment of psychiatric illnesses unique to women, the treatment of disorders during the reproductive years, the special risk factors and pharmacologic considerations unique to female patients, and health care access and outcome disparities associated with gender, including intersectional issues.”

During her session, De Faria expanded on the ongoing need for advocacy around women’s rights. Yet such work is made more challenging due to women’s lack of representation in leadership positions to push for policies that target issues like the pay gap, reproductive rights, violence against women, maternal mental health, parental leave, and child care.

“The Committee on Women’s Mental Health addressed several of these issues by educating and collaborating with other agencies and APA components to guide research and advocacy related to women,” she said.

Since its formation in 2020, the Committee on Women has written and/or collaborated on numerous position statements related to women’s health and well-being. The committee joined with APA’s Women’s Caucus to write a 2020 position statement on the adverse effects of misogyny and gender bias on women’s health. Further, the committee has collaborated with numerous APA councils in responding to significant issues, such as the sexual abuse of migrants in ICE custody, Medicaid’s coverage of maternal postpartum care, and the threats to women’s reproductive health care rights.


De Faria described several topics of interest identified by the committee that will be handed over to the new council as action items. Among these action items are increasing access to perinatal mental health and reproductive psychiatry. Data from maternal mortality review committees show that suicide, fatal overdoses, and other deaths related to mental disorders are far and away the leading underlying cause of pregnancy-related deaths.

“Due to the impact of untreated perinatal psychiatric illness on maternal and infant outcomes, it is very important to facilitate access to mental health screening and care for pregnant persons,” De Faria said.

Another issue that De Faria said the committee will hand over to the council is the importance of mitigating the effects of climate change, which disproportionately affect women and minoritized populations, she said. Last year, UN Women released the report “Feminist Climate Change: A Framework for Action,” which explains how gender inequality intensifies vulnerability to the impact of climate change.

“A growing body of evidence on gender and climate change identifies negative impacts across a range of economic and social outcomes for women, girls, and gender-diverse people because of underlying gender inequalities and the failure to take gender issues into account in environmental policymaking,” the report stated.

“Members of the committee are participating in several sessions throughout the meeting to present on relevant topics in women’s mental health,” De Faria said. “We hope to have robust participation from the audience to inform future work of the Council on Women.” ■