Family Groups - women - Are men bad for women's health
Feelings ran high at this debate touching on gender issues
within psychiatric services. The audience started the evening
strongly behind the motion supporting gender-segregated in-patient
services but with a number of voters waiting to be persuaded.
The proposers of the motion centred their arguments on issues
of women’s safety and were opposed by a counter-attack
emphasising the importance of patient choice. We heard several
women service users give heartfelt testimony to their experience
of the vulnerability of women within mixed acute wards, in
particular to sexual exploitation and violence. Although nobody
denied that women had the right to safety as in-patients,
it was argued that maybe a better solution lay in improving
the general quality of in-patient care and giving careful
consideration to ward architecture and staffing levels to
allow safety for all. Would sex-segregation not be a move
to benefit women and disadvantage men? Lynne Clayton spiritedly
attacked this notion on the grounds that it was unreasonable
to put women at risk so that they could act as ‘civilising’
influences for men. Interestingly, Dr Eleanor Cole’s
overview of the literature showed that research into the proposed
benefits of gender-separated services was equivocal. Should
we not, therefore, take more time to reflect and research
the issue before committing to change? Otherwise we might
fail to learn from the past experience of segregated wards
that was illustrated by Professor Peter Tyrer.
At the end of it all, there were fewer people on the fence
but the percentages barely changed. In terms of acute in-patient
psychiatric wards at least, the feeling seemed to be that
men were bad for women’s mental health and that these
services ought therefore to be sex-segregated.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author
and do not necessarily reflect those of their colleagues or
the views of the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London.
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