6 Female Mental Health Heroes You Should Know This Women’s History Month
As the saying goes, we stand on their shoulders.
When you think of pioneers in the field of mental health, who do you think of? The first face that jumps into my head is that of Sigmund Freud, father of psychoanalysis and many a slip. Countless women, including Freud’s own daughter, have made equally important contributions in this arena as well, and I thought as we ease into Women’s History Month, it might be nice to have a little refresher on a few of the sheroes of mental health.
Nellie Bly: Bly (born Elizabeth Jane Cochran) is always a crowd favorite. An investigative journalist, after hearing of the horrible conditions for patients at a New York State asylum, she posed as insane in order to get herself admitted. After for 10 days as an inpatient, Bly wrote about her experiences in an exposé for New York World. Her report was the catalyst for lasting and widespread mental health reform and was later published in book form as Ten Days In A Mad-House.
Anna Freud: Did you know that Sigmund’s daughter pushed for an expanded focus on children’s mental health, among other things? Anna Freud was a brilliant psychologist and a pioneer in the field of child psychoanalysis both in Vienna and in London after leaving Austria during World War II.
Leta Stetter Hollingworth: Hollingworth was one of the early advocates of the field of psychology in the United States and researched women’s psychology, intelligence, and gifted children. She was New York City’s first civil service psychologist and worked at Bellevue Hospital running its psychological lab.
At the time that Hollingworth was doing her work, the “variability hypothesis” was in vogue, which posited that men occupied both the highest and lowest ends of the bell curve on both physical and psychological traits and that women were locked into mediocrity. Additionally, women were basically viewed as quasi-invalids during their menstrual cycles. Hollingworth challenged this belief and demonstrated that the average woman has an equal mental capacity to the average man, each and every day of the month.
Kay Redfield Jamison: Jamison is a researcher and psychologist in the area of mood disorders, and published a best-selling memoir detailing her own experiences with bipolar disorder, An Unquiet Mind, among many other publications. On a personal note, I’m not sure I would ever have believed that I personally actually have bipolar were it not for that remarkable book.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross: This Swiss-American psychiatrist was a pioneer in the field of near-death studies and the author of the groundbreaking book On Death and Dying. Her seminal work was one of more than 20 books she authored on the subject and related topics over the course of her career, while she instructed tens of thousands of students on her chosen subject matter as well.
Marie Nyswander: Nyswander developed the use of methadone for the treatment of heroin addiction, which is estimated to reduce the death rate of heroin addicts by 60 percent.
For more on women in psychology, you can refer to the very interesting website Psychology’s Feminist Voices. In the meantime, from my ovaries to yours, happy Women’s History Month!