Expanding the Focus: Initiative Sets the Foundation for Integrated Approach to Mental Health and Well-Being of Girls and Women

April 15, 2012

Over the last decade, research has underscored how gender is often one important determinant of risk, prevalence, presentation, course, and treatment of mental illnesses. This knowledge, coupled with McLean Hospital’s continued expansion of programs exclusively for girls and women, triggered Shelly F. Greenfield, MD, MPH, chief academic officer for McLean, Scott L. Rauch, MD, president and psychiatrist in chief, and Joseph Gold, MD, chief medical officer, to develop the Women’s Mental Health Initiative (WMHI).

The initiative, which was made possible thanks to a $300,000 anonymous donation, is the first step toward developing the Division of Women’s Mental Health and Gender Biology. The creation of this division will be a key element of the hospital’s strategic plan to integrate clinical care, research, and education activities into programmatically-based divisions. Once established, the Division of Women’s Mental Health and Gender Biology will join the existing divisions of Substance Use Disorders, Basic Neuroscience, Child and Adolescent, and Psychotic Disorders.

Division of Women’s Mental Health

From left: Dawn Sugarman, PhD, Shelly F. Greenfield, MD, MPH, and Sherry Winternitz, MD

“The aim of the WMHI is to develop a hospital-wide, multidisciplinary approach to the mental health and well-being of girls and women through the life span, integrating efforts throughout the clinical, research, and training programs,” explained Greenfield.

To help lead the charge of the WMHI, Greenfield has formed a steering committee, co-chaired by Sherry Winternitz, MD, clinical director of the Dissociative Disorders and Trauma Program for McLean.

“The steering committee comprises leadership from all of the hospital’s programs whose focus is on women’s mental health and wellness,” said Winternitz. “We are fortunate in that we have national leaders in this field right here at McLean, so together, we are looking at models that have been used nationally and globally and gathering ideas on best practices. This is an exciting opportunity for us to create a collaborative enterprise that will advance clinical care, research, and education focused on women’s mental health.”

In addition to the steering committee, Greenfield has developed a scientific symposium that will draw local and national experts in the area of women’s mental health to McLean in November 2012 and is working toward expanding research in this area. Junior investigator Dawn Sugarman, PhD, has joined McLean as a clinical researcher specializing in gender-specific treatment for women with substance use disorders.

“McLean offers a wide spectrum of treatment services for girls and women. These programs utilize state-of-the-art diagnostic and therapeutic techniques to treat symptoms and restore health,” said Greenfield. “The WMHI will bring together clinical and research leaders from across the hospital, allowing us to engage in dialogue about the etiology of disorders, best practices, prevention, and triage for people with multiple disorders. Through these conversations and collaborations, we will continue to set the standard for women’s mental health care and research and training well into the future.”

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