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Festival to bring awareness, support for postpartum mental health

By Laura Giles - Herald Correspondent | Sep 12, 2021

Emily Dyches holding her fifth baby a few months before she passed away. Dyches suffered from postpartum depression and anxiety following the birth of her baby. The Emily Effect is a foundation started by family members to help bring awareness and support to other mothers.(Courtesy photo)

Emily Dyches passed away five years ago after struggling with postpartum anxiety. She tried to get help for almost a year before she passed. Now her family members, as part of The Emily Effect Foundation, are trying to raise awareness and help other women who may be experiencing similar struggles. On Sept. 18, a Fall Festival will be held to help raise funds for The Emily Effect.

In March 2015, Dyches, a Salem resident, gave birth to her fifth baby. Soon after, she began experiencing postpartum anxiety and depression.

“It was her fifth baby and she hadn’t experienced anxiety on this level before. It was a year of ups and downs. It was very difficult for our family,” said Megan Johnson, Dyches’ sister and co-founder of The Emily Effect. “The way that she passed and the story drew a lot of attention. We knew that a lot of moms were suffering and we decided to share her story and be open about it.”

On Feb. 24, 2016, Dyches was riding as a passenger in a car with her dad, when she experienced a severe panic attack, causing her to run from the car — trying to find safety — and into traffic. She passed away as a result of an auto-pedestrian accident. The months leading up to that fateful day were spent trying to get the best help possible for Dyches.

“It was difficult to find the right kind of help for her. Postpartum mood disorders require a specific skill set and knowledge and it was hard to find care that was specific to her needs. There were pockets of good help, but overall, the care felt disconnected. We felt like we were on our own in finding resources,” Johnson said. “They even reached out at emergency rooms and were basically turned away.”

After Dyches passed away, people reached out to her family. “A couple of days after her passing, a mom reached out and said that because she heard Emily’s story today, she was going to reach out and get help,” Johnson said.

Dyches’ family decided to tell her story in an effort to help other women who may be struggling with postpartum mood disorders.

“Emily was the type of person who had an effect on others. She was talented and kind and had everything going for her. When she passed away, it really impacted a lot of people because they could relate to the struggle. We use The Emily Effect to raise awareness and share her story and stories of other moms,” Johnson said.

The awareness that grew from Dyches’ experience brought about necessary changes in the state of Utah, according to Johnson. In 2017, then-Gov. Herbert declared perinatal mood and anxiety disorders as a statewide health concern and designated February as Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month. Since then, funding has been allocated to improve resources for moms.

“We’ve seen the stigma associated with mental illness in our community reduce significantly over the last five years in addition to vital improvements in maternal mental healthcare,” Johnson said. “A lot of people were already working to create change in this space and Dyches’ story poured gasoline on the fire that was already burning to create this change.”

The Emily Effect Fall Festival will be held Sept. 18 at Margaret Wines Park, 100 E. 600 North in Lehi, from 10 a.m. until 1:45 p.m. The family-friendly event will include games, a petting zoo, crafts, raffles, items donated for parents and music.

Speakers will include a series of mothers sharing their stories and others talking about maternal mental health, ways to support moms and how moms can take care of themselves. The activities and games are free. Raffle tickets can be purchased and people are welcome to donate to the organization, if they choose.

“We want to use it to raise awareness and bring community together,” Johnson said.

Funds raised will be used to create a library of videos sharing the personal stories from other mothers. The library will be used to share stories and educate others, continuing the conversation and spreading the message that help is available and moms who are suffering do not need to do so in silence. For more information and to donate, people can go to http://theemilyeffect.org.

“My biggest goal is for moms to not feel ashamed of their story and to feel like they can talk about their struggles. Through that, they can feel connection and support and get the help that they need,” Johnson said. “Too often, women struggle in silence. I hope that light on this topic will continue to grow and that will give moms the permission and opportunity to thrive and feel support. One of my hopes for the foundation is that there will be a wide range of resources available to moms and a better support system for them.”

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