45% of women in Utah say they feel “chronically insecure” at some point. How can you change that?

This story is part of The Salt Lake Tribune’s ongoing commitment to finding solutions to Utah’s biggest challenges through the work of the Innovation Lab.

Lisa Diamond set out to understand and quantify a feeling many people struggle to describe.

It’s a feeling she’s come to know well during the pandemic: a slight uneasiness. It’s not quite full-blown stress. It’s not an emotional reaction to a direct attack, but rather the uneasiness of asking yourself: Am I safe? Are these people interested in me? would you protect me

“Feeling insecure and vulnerable wasn’t the same as stress,” Diamond noted. “It was a different kind of feeling, a kind of deeper form of chronic alertness, vigilance and caution.”

The pandemic has brought out these feelings in many people. Diamond, a distinguished professor of psychology and gender studies at the University of Utah, is interested in understanding how marginalized communities experience this sense of unease.

For these communities, including women of color, LGBTQ people, and racial/ethnic minorities, feelings of insecurity did not begin and will not end with the global pandemic.

In a new research and policy report from the Utah Women & Leadership Project, titled “Safety First: The Health Implications of Social Belonging Among Utah Women,” Diamond examines Utah women’s experiences of “social safety, exclusion, and health.”

She asked how people feel at work, at school or with their families. Diamond also examined how mental and physical health is harmed when people lack support in these environments. Diamond notes in the letter that over the past several decades, researchers have “documented a disproportionate number of mental and physical health problems among socially excluded individuals” but have failed to consider the stress experienced by those who are not necessarily “open.” cases of discrimination.

Diamond’s research is amazing – more than 45% of women in Utah said they have felt “chronically insecure” at some point in their lives.

“Chronic vigilance,” Diamond argues, “takes a heavy toll on a person’s mental and physical health over time, increasing the risk of rumination, depressive symptoms, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and immune system dysfunction.”

If Utah is to improve the welfare of women in the state, making them feel safe is critical.

“It increasingly demonstrates the need for specific efforts that help more people feel included,” said Susan Madsen, founder and director of the Utah Women & Leadership Project, “[efforts] that help more people to feel a part of society and companies, organizations, schools and universities.”

Ask the right questions

Diamond calls it “social security”: the sense of well-being we get from feeling cared for. Social security is the feeling of having “reliable social connection, inclusion and protection” within a group. At its simplest, it can be the relief you feel when you drop something at the grocery store and someone thoughtfully picks it up for you, Diamond said.

But she couldn’t just ask Utahns, “When do you feel socially unsafe?” Quantifying the absence can be difficult.

So Diamond and some of her students put together a list of questions to get to the bottom of it. The online survey tool Qualtrics collected responses from November 2022 to January 16, 2023. Both women and men responded to the survey, and in the sample there was “a higher representation of those experiencing ethnic or economic exclusion.” Ultimately, the responses of 398 Utah women for the Policy Brief were examined.

They asked respondents to consider their feelings at home, with friends, with family, at work, at school, in public spaces, and on social media. The survey included questions on 14 different “indicators,” including “Do these people care about you?” and “Do you feel so good that you don’t notice the time passing?”

The survey also asked respondents “if they have ever been repeatedly exposed to an environment where they risked being abused, embarrassed, hurt, or pressured into doing something they did not want to do.”

(Photo courtesy) Lisa Diamond is a professor of psychology and gender studies at the University of Utah. Her latest research focuses on social security.

In addition to noting that such a high percentage of Utah women had experienced “chronic insecurity,” Diamond noted that women were “single, non-heterosexual/non-cisgender, had very low incomes, were adult assaulted, or were abused in childhood became or became suicidal” experienced the phenomenon with the highest rates.

Chronic insecurity can result from not knowing if someone is going to offend or embarrass you on any given day. “When we think of the word abuse, we usually think of physical abuse,” Diamond said.

The alertness that comes with insecurity doesn’t just leave psychological scars — it activates our immune systems and can cause long-term damage, according to Diamond.

Individual and political solutions

The findings of Diamond’s research confirmed a suspicion – that fostering “social bonds that make people feel important to those around them” is important and that communities need to do more than just eliminate direct instances of abuse .

“We can increase Social Security by showing people in our community that we accept them and care about them,” Diamond said. Simple things like making eye contact with others can help. “I’m so aware now that even when we’re marginalized in some way ourselves, we all have the ability to offer a little bit of security to everyone around us,” Diamond said.

Politics is also important. “Things like banning gender-affirming grooming are the opposite of [social safety]’ Diamond said. “When individuals see their leaders taking actions that protect them or deprive them, it impacts their day-to-day sense of social security.”

Our brains want a signal that the community around us will protect us, Diamond said. Certain laws and policies have the opposite effect, sending signals to our brains and ultimately our bodies.

“There are these subtle things that we all rely on to make us feel like we’re important to the people around us,” Diamond said. “That we are visible and cared for and a part of this human social fabric.”

She is currently researching how LGBTQ individuals raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints find support and community. The survey will remain open until April.

Madsen said effective unconscious bias training, better data collection and providing additional support for children in marginalized communities could help.

“To me,” Madsen said, “this research means we need to do more, not less.”

https://www.sltrib.com/news/2023/03/16/45-utah-women-report-feeling/ 45% of women in Utah say they feel “chronically insecure” at some point. How can you change that?

Justin Scacco

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