• women;
  • mental health;
  • gender;
  • madness;
  • feminism;
  • mental illness;
  • social constructionism

Feminist conceptualizations of women’s madness: a review of the literature

Background. Gender is one aspect of an individual’s identity that has been widely debated and discussed in relation to many different aspects of social life. The literature review explores how gender stereotypes affect women and their experience of mental illness. The aim is to demonstrate how a feminist perspective provides a useful lens through which women’s experience of mental illness can be viewed.

Methods. The papers were identified by a computerized search of the CINAHL, Medline, BIDS ISI and Mental Health Nursing Collection databases and a hand search. All papers were screened and subjected to critical review.

Results. A theoretical framework was developed that reflected two key themes to emerge from the feminist literature on women and mental illness, namely psychiatry as a method of socially controlling women and the medicalization of women’s unhappiness. In addition the complexities and contradictions in the feminist arguments are highlighted.

Conclusion. The paper concludes by considering the implications of the issues raised for nursing practice by drawing attention to the current debates on the need to focus on gender relations rather than just on women’s issues.