SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – The trend is troubling. More Utah women are losing their lives to suicide.
According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, the suicide rate for women is the fifth highest in the country.
“We are concerned to see it going in the wrong direction. We used to be the ninth highest for female suicide in the country and now we’re in the top five,” explained Erin Jemison, Director of Public Policy for YWCA Utah. “We’re just now starting to recognize it as an epidemic.”
She says there’s a correlation between suicide and the opioid epidemic, substance abuse, and maternal mental health.
“We’re seeing really high rates of death among women when they first have a child — so in that first year after giving birth. A lot of times it’s associated with mental health challenges or substance use that hasn’t been identified by their primary care doctor,” Jemison explained.
“It’s tragic. At the exact time when women and families are supposed to be experiencing the most joy, they are experiencing a lot of hormonal changes and other challenges that might exacerbate existing mental health challenges.”
Jemison says primary care doctors need to do a better job of telling women about these dangers.
“There’s so much cultural expectation around being a new mom and how you’re supposed to feel when that baby comes into the world and there’s just so much shame and stigma if women don’t feel that way and they’re really unlikely to reach out. And even when they do have family support, we don’t have enough mental health care providers to respond to those issues.”
Data shows there are even more disparities for women of color.
“It doesn’t really take people of color complaining to see that these are real issues. We see these barriers. We still see a lot of disparity when we compare populations and there’s real reasons for that. We see higher maternal death rates and it’s not because of any biological difference. It’s because doctors aren’t taking them as seriously, our medical system is more likely to dismiss their concerns and we see less health insurance coverage for communities of color. There’s real issues that aren’t being addressed and I think we need to look at the complex factors that play into that. Some of that is racism, some of it is classicism and some of it is different individual choices, but we need to look at what are the systemic changes that we can make so that those individual choices don’t matter as much — that we don’t see these patterns across race and gender,” Jemison said.
Suicide rates are not the only problem.
Data from IWPR also shows Utah women are less likely to report experiencing violence than women nationally.
“Generally speaking we see a correlation between really gender traditional communities and norms with abuse in relationships where people are afraid to speak out. And there’s more control in relationships between the genders. We also have really high rates of firearm ownership in Utah, so we see high rates of domestic violence homicide in this state and it is because we have more access to lethal means. It’s not necessarily that we have more abuse in relationships here, but if people have more access to deadly weapons in the midst of a heated argument or in the midst of an abusive blowup of some kind, then we’re more likely to see death associated with that,” stated the Director of Public Policy.
“Why aren’t women talking about these issues?” asked ABC4’s Brittany Johnson.
“If they’re not seeing a lot of public awareness and a lot of conversation in their community about these issues, they are less likely to talk about it. And unfortunately, in the worst circumstances, it can lead to death for these women,” replied Jemison.
She also noted the lack of resources in Utah.
“Most states have at least one service provider per county in their state. In Utah, we don’t even have one per county. We have about 14 serving the entire state.”
“We need to look at some of the evidence-based policy approaches to this and we need to have real state investment in victim resources, but also in prevention,” said Jemison.