The Women and Mental Health Special Interest Group: 25th-anniversary reflections
23 February, 2021
Firstly I would like to say how happy I am to continue to be involved with the Women and Mental Health Special Interest Group (WMHSIG), and how proud I am of the Special Interest Group 25 years on.
As many will know the SIG was formally set up in 1996, although it had been in the planning stage for about a year before that. It is hard to imagine now how difficult it was for doctors to find part-time consultant posts then, and how many radical changes have taken place since that time.
I had worked full-time until the birth of my fourth child in 1994 and had been in my consultant post for about 10 years, but at that stage I realised that with four children under the age of seven I had little choice but to drop down to part-time work. This turned out to be much more of a challenge than I had ever imagined.
Although part-time training schemes in psychiatry were well established, the assumption seemed to be that children would be of school-age by the time that woman had reached consultant level. This was far from being the case as women were tending to marry later. As a result, part-time consultant posts were almost never advertised, although occasionally they could be negotiated.
Job sharing was in its infancy with no easy way of finding a job share partner. Eventually, I was lucky and I found a job-sharing consultant post in another hospital through word-of-mouth, but I felt strongly that it had been a very difficult journey and that something should be done about it.
I had the idea of setting up what was then called the Women in Psychiatry Special Interest Group (WIPSIG), and I was fortunate that the President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists at the time was Dame Fiona Caldicott who was very supportive of the idea.
The proposal had to be got through various College committees, but with Fiona’s support, it was eventually voted through. I was proposed as the Founding Chairman and served in this capacity for five years until 2002.
I was fortunate to be very well supported by a very able and energetic Executive Committee, who enthusiastically tackled our twin aims of counteracting discrimination and improving career opportunities for women psychiatrists and mental health provision for women patients. The Women in Psychiatry Group contributed to and participated in many of the early changes in these areas, including setting up a Job Share Register, organising conferences and contributing to policy.
It has been such a pleasure to see the SIG flourish, thrive, mature and evolve, and I welcomed the decision in 2015 to change the name to the Women and Mental Health Special Interest Group, and to adopt the inspiring slogan that We work to improve the mental health of women, everywhere. Twenty-five years is a special anniversary, and I am delighted to support the 25 Women project and to hear about these impressive women who are doing such an amazing job.
It is so good to support each other and to celebrate our diversity, successes and achievements as women, doctors and psychiatrists, and I look forward to the next 25 years!