The University of Wisconsin Center for Women's Health Research held its 8th annual Leadership Conference Friday, featuring Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton as a keynote speaker addressing the regrettable state of women's mental health in Wisconsin.

The conference, held at the Fluno Center, presented a variety of perspectives in the field of women's health ranging from women veterans' health to postpartum depression.

Lawton said there was significant room for improvement in Wisconsin women's mental health, pointing to the state's low rankings in several surveys.

One survey, conducted by interns in the UW La Follette School of Public Affairs, ranked Wisconsin 48th for the average number of poor-mental-health days experienced per month by women.

"This [survey] is an invitation to all of us to respond to the compelling data that describes a status quo that we simply can't afford in the state of Wisconsin," Lawton said.

Lawton noted untreated mental illnesses have far-reaching implications in everyday life, including economic and educational effects. According to Lawton, those suffering from depression are seven times more likely to be unemployed or underemployed than those not suffering from depression.

"Medical costs of depressed people average twice those who are non-depressed, and educational earnings and achievement are significantly compromised by those who suffer untreated mental illness and depression," she said.

In addition, Lawton addressed a correlation between rates of poverty and mental illness, noting that adults in poverty are twice as likely to experience major depression. She also attributed part of the reason for depression affecting twice as many women as men to societal inequities owing to gender. Some of these inequities, she said, also apply to ethnic minorities.

Lawton added that depression is highly treatable and, in many cases, preventable. She said it was important to educate employees and employers about mental illness, and commended some "smart Wisconsin corporations" that have already developed programs to educate their employees about warning signs and risk factors for depression.

Susan Heidrich, a UW professor in the School of Nursing, followed Lawton as part of a community resource panel. Heidrich spoke on the variety of services currently available for treating mental illness, but also acknowledged that "the services that are out there are not the whole realm of services that people need for dealing with mental health issues."

Speaking in the capacity of a mother of two children diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, Heidrich mentioned the National Alliance on Mental Illness, founded in Madison 25 years ago, and noted the services available are free and can provide the necessary support and education that accompany mental illness.

Lawton noted mental health issues are not isolated to any one society, but are prevalent across racial and socioeconomic boundaries.

"There isn't one of us that isn't more than one degree removed from someone who has suffered at least one episode of mental illness," she said.