Several prominent psychologists are helping the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services develop evidence-based resources to bolster mental health and wellness in adolescent girls and women. The effort--part of the three-year-old Bright Futures for Women's Health and Wellness initiative at the department's Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)--reaches out to girls and women, their health-care providers and their communities at large.
"We started the effort because we felt there was not an overall preventive focus for women out there that spanned preteen to postmenopausal years," says Peter van Dyck, MD, associate administrator for Maternal and Child Health at HRSA.
Bright Futures aims to:
Develop practical educational materials that will give women and teenage girls information on recommended preventive health services.
Supply tools for health-care providers and community organizations to use in promoting women's health.
HRSA plans to distribute the first set of materials--on healthy eating and physical activity--later this year. The materials will include a physical activity and healthy eating self-assessment guide and clinical conversation starter to help women talk to their health-care providers about simple steps they can take to practice a healthy lifestyle. There will also be a training guide for the providers and a community tool kit.
"Now that we've made significant progress on the physical activity and healthy eating tools," van Dyck says, "we're moving on to look at mental health and wellness."
HRSA has invited an eight-member team--including five psychologists--to provide expertise on mental health. The expert panel met by conference call in January to discuss the project.
One of the psychologists involved is Pamela Mulder, PhD, who studies women's behavioral health and rural health at Marshall University in Huntington, W.Va., and also serves on the Bright Futures steering committee. Right now, she says, the panel is still at the "definition" stage and is tackling a lot of complicated issues.
"We're asking questions like, 'What does it mean when we say mental fitness?'" Mulder explains. "It's not just freedom from mental illness. It includes meaningful relationships, work and spirituality. We have to define what we mean by all of these things and how they play out across cultures and age levels. The panel has decided, Mulder says, that the tools should focus on the promotion of wellness.
Panel member Jessica Henderson Daniel, PhD, a psychologist at Harvard Medical School, agrees. "We're looking at emotional, spiritual and psychological wellness," she says. Daniel has a particular interest in psychological well-being and spirituality in African-American women and notes that the panel will also address cross-cultural issues.
HRSA is working with two contractors, The Media Network and Matthews Media Group, to develop the Bright Futures mental health materials. Eventually, Mulder says, the materials will be available to consumers, communities and clinicians.
"I think that we're really on the cutting edge in promoting preventive health for adolescent girls and women," says van Dyck. "We're going to have some good products at the end of this."