Author | Photo via Sistering

The Vagina Dialogues: Dr. Cheryl Rowe MD, Community Psychiatrist at Sistering

The Vagina Dialogues, coming up at The Drake Hotel (1150 Queen St W) on March 8th, is an evening about connectivity, celebration, and important conversation in support of Sistering. We’re highlighting some of the panelists that will be speaking at this incredible event. 

Dr. Cheryl Rowe MD is Community Psychiatrist that has been practising psychiatry for over thirty years. Her interest in community psychiatry, feminism, women’s mental health and social justice is apparent in her approach to patient care, having worked with women at Sistering for the past ten years.

SDTC: As a Community Psychiatrist, what are the major issues facing the women you work with? What are some practical ways we (as fellow community members) can be more supportive to them?

SR: The women I work with through Inner City Health are often missing the basic necessities of life that every person needs to be healthy. Many are homeless and live in shelters or on the street, they have been assaulted multiple times as adults and may be survivors of childhood and adult sexual abuse. Because of unstable living conditions they may not have ID, a bank account or any place to keep their things. Food insecurity is always present.

Members of the community can help by treating these women with respect, remembering that underneath the unstable behaviours are people with unique stories and lives, and that creating safe spaces where they can go to shower, eat, share stories and be offered support can make all the difference.

What should we as a society be paying more attention to?

We need to stop looking for band-aid solutions to homelessness and more to the power imbalances in our society. Lack of affordable housing, domestic violence and income disparity are often the most important contributors to poor mental health.

I am a strong believer in creating local change as a community. Look to your own neighbourhood and support new housing and employment ventures for marginalized people to create safety and independence for women.

What made you want to get involved with The Vagina Dialogues?

I have been a feminist working with women with mental health issues for the past forty years. Women need to know their own bodies and speak about them without shame. Sexual politics involve knowledge, freedom and self-empowerment and that starts with the individual. As well, Sistering is a unique and wonderful place for marginalized women and I support fundraising for them.

What policy changes would you like to see instated to improve access to mental health services for women?

I would like to see more policies supporting community mental health where psychiatrists are going out to the community and offering treatment where the women are instead of staying in the hospitals and expecting patients to come to them. This means setting up clinics and community partnerships like we do at Inner City Health Associates.

Women need time to build relationships with their psychiatrists and gain trust before taking medications. Psychiatrists are doing less psychotherapy and more consultation, leaving no place for the women to actually get the therapy they need by the most highly trained people to give it. This needs to change.

Get your ticket to The Vagina Dialogues here

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