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FEATURE – May is Mental Health Awareness Month and is a time to remember the critical link between mental health and overall health and wellbeing.

For over 70 years, this month has been dedicated to bringing conversations about mental health out of the shadows and raising awareness more broadly. Although poor mental health is an issue that affects people of all ages, with my work leading the Utah Women & Leadership Project (UWLP), I want to share some facts about how this topic impacts Utah girls and women.

Even if you are not currently struggling with poor mental health, chances are, someone close to you is. A study done by Utah Women & Leadership Project showed nearly 1 in 5 women report having seven or more poor mental health days in the last 30 days.

Think of the five closest women in your life. Statistically, one of them struggles with mental health challenges regularly. This could be your friends, daughters, mother, co-workers, or you.

Understanding what factors affect overall mental health might help women to navigate some of the challenges. Difficult life events like illness, loss of a job, physical abuse, or recent divorce can negatively affect your mental health. Additionally, poor physical health is connected to fragile mental health. Healthy People 2020 states that conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer can occur more often and be more extreme in women with poor mental health.

For women who are pregnant, postpartum depression is the most common complication of childbirth. And those living below the poverty line are more than twice as likely to have depression as those who are at or above the poverty rate. In Utah, 2 out of every 5 women living below the poverty line report poor mental health.

Poor mental health affects all areas of a woman’s life. It is related to increased substance abuse, violence, and suicide. This affects both the person suffering and the people who love them. Sadly, Utah ranks ninth in the nation for suicide deaths, and suicide is the leading cause of death in the 10-17-year-old range. Being aware of the numbers helps us understand the reality of the problem.

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Despite the alarming statistics, there are ways to address the issues surrounding poor mental health. Medications under the direction of a trained medical professional can help, as well as group-based or individual therapy.

Many other tips and recommendations can be found in this UWLP toolkit (see “Healthcare & Women’s Health”). Also see the video of a recent UWLP event titled, “Strengthening Your Emotional Health as Women.”

Individuals, families, health professionals, organizations, and policymakers must be diligent in working toward alleviating the stressors that contribute to poor mental health. Understanding and talking about it can elevate awareness creating conversations meant to uplift and educate. This may lead to earlier and better diagnosis and treatment.

Seventy years ago, talking about mental health was something people feared. Today, it is encouraged and beneficial. I believe improved and meaningful conversations regarding mental health can lead to strengthening the positive impact of women in their families, their communities, and in Utah.

Written by Dr. SUSAN R. MADSEN.

Dr. Madsen is the Karen Haight Huntsman Endowed Professor of Leadership in the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University and the founding director of the Utah Women & Leadership Project.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2022, all rights reserved.

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