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J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2005 Nov;14(9):754-63.

Starting early: promoting the mental health of women and girls throughout the life span.

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National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, MS E-88, Atlanta, Georgia 30333, USA.


The importance of mental health in the promotion of lifelong health among men and women alike cannot be overstated. However, mental health remains under-addressed within general public health and community health programs. In this report, we focus primarily on the mental health of women and discuss risk factors that can affect the well-being of women throughout the life span. The literature reviewed demonstrates a strong relationship between social and environmental risk factors, such as abuse and family dysfunction in childhood, to health risk behaviors and poor mental health in adulthood. We concluded that adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and poor adult mental health could contribute to cycles of intergenerational transmission of risks leading to poor mental and physical health in children of ACEexposed parents. Also, we argue that public health communities can make a difference in women's lifelong health by improving early recognition and treatment of mental health concerns, seeking opportunities to prevent exposures to known risk factors in childhood, and developing targeted parenting interventions. Promoting healthy psychological states and coping mechanisms before, during, and after exposure to adverse events throughout life is also critical. Perhaps such efforts will help to reduce or even break cycles of risk exposure specifically for women and their children. Finally, existing prevention activities and opportunities for promoting the mental health of girls and women are discussed. Ultimately, this report challenges the women's health and public health communities to take action because mental health can have a serious impact on lifelong well-being.

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