This past Friday, Sept. 20, 2019, Norma Bowe, Ph.D., presented a lecture on Women's Mental Health as part of the Distinguished Faculty Lecture Series. The event was hosted by the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, Women's and Gender Studies Program and the College of Liberal Arts.
The program took place in Hennings, Room 113. Despite the large lecture hall, the room was filled with a wide variety of students. The schedule began with an introduction from Consuelo Bonillas, Ph.D., the program coordinator for the Women's and Gender Studies Program. She listed Bowe's many accreditations which include undergraduate degrees in nursing and community health, a master's in health administration and a Ph.D. in community health policy. Prior to becoming a professor at Kean, she worked in the field of psychiatry. This semester marks the 20th year that Bowe has been a professor at Kean University.
Bowe is a strong advocate for mental health. She explained that most mental health issues are genetic and not at the fault of the individual who has it.
"We tend to blame people for their mental status and that is just simply wrong," said Bowe. "No one, not one person in this room, would sign up for depression or anxiety."
Bowe covered a wide variety of issues that may affect women's mental health. She accompanied each discussion of topic with statistics and research found on the topics. One set of statistics she presented was on domestic abuse and mental distress. She explained that domestic abuse is not confined to just partner abuse or physical abuse. It may also be abuse among family members as well as emotional abuse.
"Domestic abuse is the most prevalent cause of depression and other mental health difficulties. Between 35 percent and 73 percent of abused women experience depression or anxiety disorders and this is three times greater than the general population," said Bowe.
Another factor that contributes to women's mental health is during their menstruation. Bowe specifically mentioned Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) which is caused by a woman's hormones and may result in severe depression, anxiety or irritability. Bowe explained that hormones also come into play during a woman's pregnancy especially during the first few weeks of pregnancy and right before the baby is born. Bowe believes every woman experiences what she referred to as the "baby blues" in result of giving birth. Baby blues are the least severe form of postpartum depression but it is still important for women to be conscientious about taking care of themselves post labor. Some women may experience more severe forms of postpartum depression as a result of their hormones, sleep deprivation and limited support system. Another vulnerable time for women's mental health is during menopause due to fluctuations in their hormones.
Bowe also explained the correlation between women's stress levels and a child's brain development.
"If you have a lot of stress you also have high levels of cortisol and cortisol causes depression. Now, it also causes inflammation and therefore that can affect the brain development of a growing baby in the womb. We really have to mitigate our stress. We really have to talk about our anxiety because this is how it works: it always starts with stress and if we don't catch stress, we're going to end up with anxiety. If we don't catch anxiety and do something about it we're going to develop depression and after that maybe suicidal ideation and after that we might be stuck with a chronic and persistent depression or something even worse," said Bowe.
Bowe then discussed how eating disorders, incarceration, grief, body image issues, lack of support and more are all factors that affect women's mental health as a whole. Each topic lent itself to an open discussion between Bowe and the students present in the audience. Everyone had a story to share or relate to and were able to give support to each other in light of the subject.
Bowe concluded her presentation with ways to combat general feelings of anxiety or sadness. She emphasized the importance of finding meaning and purpose in one's life, holistic treatment, women's circles and, most importantly, asking for help.
Kean students looking for assistance with dealing with any of the emotions and feelings discussed in the presentation or have similar experiences, can visit the Counseling Center in Downs Hall, Room 127. Counseling services are available to all Kean students free of charge, if any students wish to seek help for themselves or would like to refer a friend. The Counseling Center is equipped to assist students through a wide variety of stressors from minor academic and personal difficulties to more serious stressors like assault or anxiety. Each session is confidential. To make an appointment students may either visit the center in person or call (908) 737- 4850. For more information on Kean's Counseling Center students can visit their webpage on the Kean website.
Students wanting to join a community or finding a new passion may also wish to join Be the Change NJ, a community service and activism nonprofit organization headed by Bowe in partnership with Kean students. For more information on the organization, students may email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (732) 207- 6195.
For more events like this and more, students can check out Cougar Link.