Why is it still so damn hard for moms to find help for postpartum mood disorders?

We are in the 21st century.  It is now 2017.  We have someone leading the country and the GOPs in trying to make it even harder for people to get access to healthcare, and in particular, mental healthcare.  Check out the articles “How Trumpcare Will Affect Moms Fighting Postpartum Depression” and Psychology Today’s “How Trumpcare Will Affect Mental Health Care.”  But we mustn’t let such ignorant, selfish and typically capitalist initiatives impede progress.  We must never stop resisting any initiative to make conditions worse, to stop forward momentum!

It is 2017 and I am asking the question so many of the other attendees of last week’s Postpartum Support International (PSI) conference are asking: Why is it still so damn hard for moms to find help to treat their postpartum mood disorders, like postpartum depression (PPD), postpartum psychosis (PPP) and postpartum OCD?  A common theme across the training sessions offered at the PSI conference, and a common topic of my blog, is the fact that there are mothers seeking help across the country daily, and we may have names of therapists or social workers, but in many cases, these professionals aren’t anywhere near where the mothers are located.  Or there’s the issue of affordability.  Or when the professionals can see a new patient (could be weeks).  Or how about there just aren’t enough professionals who can see new mothers suffering from postpartum mood disorders, period.

A recent article by Crystal Edler Schiller, PhD, assistant professor in the Center for Women’s Mood Disorders and Department of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, titled “Maternity mental health care should be accessible” highlights the issues.

Although the numbers of professionals is increasing slowly over time, there is just not enough of them to treat the actual numbers of mothers needing care.  Many PSI members are social workers, registered nurses, peer group supporters, psychologists and psychiatrists, which is great.  But the numbers of people in these roles throughout the country fall pitifully short of the help that’s actually needed.   So many mothers suffer in silence, and you only really hear about the ones who openly discuss their experiences via social media (like me) or other articles or in the news.  Or you hear about the mothers in the news who weren’t able to get the right help and their illnesses led to their deaths and/or death of their babies.

I’m fortunate that I’m in New Jersey, a state that mandates screening for PPD and has a state initiative called “Speak Up When You’re Down.”  We also have The Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder Center at Monmouth Medical Center, the very first center dedicated to maternal mental healthcare in the state, which I blogged about previously.  A group of PSI members in New Jersey have come together to form a PSI-New Jersey chapter.  These members meet monthly and we discuss the support they provide mothers via their own practices and/or via the Partnership for Maternal & Child Health of Northern New Jersey, Central Jersey Family Health Consortium, and the Southern New Jersey Perinatal Cooperative. My own experience with PPD pre-dates all of these initiatives, and needless to say, there was a whole lot more ignorance back in 2005.  It’s truly satisfying to see these initiatives take root, with more in the works.  However, this is just New Jersey and as far as I’m aware, only California, Massachusetts and Illinois have similar screening and care initiatives in place and/or in development.  There are 47 other states who are extremely behind when it comes to maternal mental healthcare.

The slow change I’ve seen just in New Jersey alone over the past 12 years since I suffered from PPD is unacceptable.  You would think that all therapists know how to diagnose and treat mothers suffering from a postpartum mood disorder.  Unfortunately, they don’t.

How do we speed up progress?  We need funding to make the printing of pamphlets/flyers available in ALL doctor’s offices that could potentially see new mothers (i.e., OB/GYNs, family doctors, general practitioners, pediatricians).  Medical schools must mandate that all training programs for all healthcare professionals (i.e., doctors, nurses, social workers, therapists) include a minimum of a semester in maternal mental health conditions and are led by PSI educators, and without these programs people cannot obtain their degrees/licenses.  Unless we start putting these measures in place, we are not going to see any significant improvement in addressing the scores of mothers needing help in our lifetime.

I’m going to leave you with the last sentences of Dr. Schiller’s article, which makes the common sense statement that, thanks to ignorance due to stigma, is all too often taken for granted by all too many people, healthcare professionals included:

Let’s dispense with the outdated idea that the body and mind are separate, which is at the foundation of decisions to pay for physical but not mental health care. Mental health is physical health, and our bodies and our babies are only as healthy as our minds.

 

 

 

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