Gov. Cox, First Lady share personal experiences, host summit on childhood mental health

SALT LAKE CITY BY LADD EGAN, KSL TV – Utah’s second annual summit about children’s mental health focused on the need to improve access to programs in the state and also the pandemic’s impact on children.  

“This pandemic has had a negative effect on the emotional wellbeing of both children and caregivers,” Governor Spencer Cox said at the summit. “And understanding the high cost associated with a failure to address this issue, we really need a clear path forward for our state.”  

Governor Cox and First Lady Abby Cox, along with The Children’s Center Utah and the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute hosted the Ready! Resilient! Utah Early Childhood Mental Health Summit on Wednesday.  

The two-hour conference previewed recommendations that are expected to be released publicly next month from the Utah Early Childhood Mental Health Working Group. 

“We’re really excited about these recommendations and are anxious to move forward with all of you,” Governor Cox said. 

During the summit, the governor and first lady shared personal stories of their struggles with mental health in their early years.  

“I understand very personally the impacts that these issues have on children at a very young age,” Governor Cox said.  

Cox said adverse childhood experiences are not uncommon and spoke of a difficult time during his middle school and high school years.  

“The suicidal thoughts that I had at that time and my struggle to overcome those and the good people in my life that intervened to help me come out of that dark place and understand that the world really was a better place with me in it,” Governor Cox said.  

First Lady Abby Cox also shared personal experiences from her childhood.  

“I started having what I now know as situation anxiety when I was 10 years old,” she said. “I didn’t have the words to describe what I was feeling nor did I have anyone that I felt I could talk to about it.”  

It wasn’t until she was an adult that she learned more.  

“It was after I had had bouts of postpartum anxiety that I started to understand what I had experienced as a child,” First Lady Cox said.               

Speakers at the conference thanked the governor and first lady for their transparency and vulnerability in sharing their experiences.  

The summit’s keynote speaker was Dr. Brenda Jones Harden, the Alison Richman Professor for Children and Families at the University of Maryland School of Social Work. She said the optimal time to intervene is early on when a child’s brain responds to environmental experiences.  

“To provide children with the support they need early on as a way to buffer them against these adversities and hopefully get them on a positive developmental path,” Harden said.  

“Addressing the complexities of early childhood mental health needs everybody—policymakers, researchers, childcare providers, community leaders, and mental health professionals—to join forces,” said a prepared statement ahead of the summit from Rebecca Dutson, president and CEO of The Children’s Center Utah. 

“To provide children with the support they need early on as a way to buffer them against these adversities and hopefully get them on a positive developmental path,” Harden said.  

“Addressing the complexities of early childhood mental health needs everybody—policymakers, researchers, childcare providers, community leaders, and mental health professionals—to join forces,” said a prepared statement ahead of the summit from Rebecca Dutson, president and CEO of The Children’s Center Utah.