FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – The Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne recently released its findings for the Allen County Women and Girls Study. It focused on four key areas that influence a girl’s life, including emotional well-being.
The study found girls in Allen County grades 7th through 12th academically achieve, but have low confidence in those achievements. The Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne derived a portion of the results from the Indiana Youth Study from middle and high school girls.
“So, we know that Allen County girls are really struggling with mental health,” Alison Gerardot, Women’s Fund Coordinator.
In Allen County, girls are reporting feeling sad or hopeless more than boys of the same age.
“Girls report feeling sad or hopeless at a rate between 43 and 46%. So almost half of the girls in those age groups are feeling sad and hopeless, or have those feelings as compared to 23-28% of boys,” said Gerardot.
Girls in Allen County also reported feeling this way at a higher rate than other girls across the state. Statewide, the rate of girls feeling this way is between 33-42%.
“Those numbers are devastating, but they’re also not surprising,” said Gerardot.
Alison Gerardot helped create the Women and Girls Fund through the survey results. She says she guessed the numbers would be high, but wasn’t sure how high.
But the question remains, why are girls in Allen County feeling this way?
Denita Washington is working alongside the Women and Girls Fund. She also works with girls in the community through her Girlz Rock program.
“We gotta get them to understand where the hurt is coming from. We understand the way of the world, all of us are struggling, really. I mean I would have to say even leading them, I’m leading while bleeding sometimes,” said Washington.
Washington hears first-hand from girls how their mental health can be affected.
The Women and Girls Study was executed prior to the pandemic, racial injustice protests, and the presidential election. Gerardot and Washington expect because of these events the number of girls feeling sad and hopeless will go up.
“Because girls silently struggle. Over the 10-20 years that I’ve been working with young people, that’s been a trend. It’s a pattern that girls usually, they academically can do well, but still when they’re academically well, maybe even come from a decent home, they still have those because of social images of what we’re supposed to look like, what we’re supposed to be like, what our hair texture is supposed to be. You know, what our skin is supposed to look like. So all of those things are things that are tearing at the heart of young girls and women,” said Washington.
Washington says a majority of issues come from women in a girl’s life, and social media.
“Adults want them to, you know, have this standard, you know, respect, and things like that. And what young woman have witnessed what other adults, from all walks of all cultures behave and do has really riveted how they see the world.”
Washington’s philosophy to her Girlz Rock girls is to find a tangible role model. Not the ones you see on social media.
Washington and Gerardot agree it goes deeper than this to help girls in Allen County, and you can’t just place a bandaid on mental health.
“I know the reaction is to just come up with a solution right now and let’s fix the problem. But because the problem is so deep, we have to take the time be able to fix the problem. And sometimes that problem in a lot of ways there isn’t a straightforward solution,” said Gerardot.
The next step for the Women’s Fund is to issue another survey to better understand why girls in Allen County feel sad and hopeless. The organization expects that to happen in the next year.
To learn more about the Women’s Fund, click here.
To learn more about Girlz Rock, click here.