Maternal Mental Health: Our Role as Birth Professionals

 

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In September of this year, the local birth and mental health communities in my area teamed up to hold a showing of the movie “Dark Side of the Full Moon.”

If you haven’t seen this movie, I highly suggest that you find or sponsor a screening.  It follows two women on their two-year journey to understand perinatal mood disorders, find out why women aren’t being screened and treated, and to search for solutions to this epidemic. It was a moving and very authentic look into the issues facing women with perinatal mood disorders. Some of the statistics presented in the movie shocked me:

  • Worldwide up to 20% of women will suffer from a maternal mental health complication (perinatal mood or anxiety disorder). One in 1000 will suffer from postpartum psychosis.
  • 1.3 million women are suffering from a maternal mental health complication in the United States alone.
  • Maternal mental illness is one of the most common complications of childbirth, yet only 4% of women are screened for it.
  • There is almost no training (maybe one lecture) in maternal mental health for obstetricians during their 4 years of residency.

I left feeling saddened by the fact that as a birth community we are not doing more to help these women. The movie gave me several ideas and my conversations with local birth and mental health professionals had given me a few more, so I started making a list.

I realized that there are ways that we, as doulas and educators, can help bring this conversation to the forefront in our communities and with our clients.

1. Educate yourself

  • Learn about the various perinatal mood disorders and how they affect women and their families.
  • Talk to/read about women who have dealt with maternal mental health issues and ask what could have made it easier for them.

2. Raise awareness in your community and with individual clients.

  • Sponsor a screening of the movie “Dark Side of the Full Moon” with other birth professionals in your area and hold a discussion afterward.
  • Ask a professional who specializes in maternal mental health to speak to your birth professional groups or students.
  • Provide clients and students with up­‐to­‐date research and information on perinatal mood disorders during pregnancy, including symptoms, how to find care, and local resources.

3. Network and know the resources in your area.

  • Talk with the midwives and obstetricians in your area and know whether or not they screen for perinatal mood disorders.
  • Find out if there are any psychiatrists,  psychologists, or therapists in your area who specialize in maternal mental health care or have specialized training.
  • Contact your local health department and find out if they have someone who works with families dealing with maternal mental health issues.
  • Know which hospitals in your area have mental health units and if any specialize in maternal mental health (know that these are currently pretty rare).
  • Research any other community agencies that might be able to help struggling families and keep a list.
  • Keep a list of online resources and support groups if local ones are not available.

4. Provide support for new families.

  • Ask and refer –  ask new moms how they are feeling, encourage them to talk honestly about their feelings, and refer them to their care provider if you have concerns. (Remember that a mom who is suicidal, homicidal, or in psychosis is an immediate emergency and requires a 911 call or an immediate trip to the emergency room.)
  • Hold a pregnancy or new moms support group where the moms are encouraged to talk openly about their feelings about parenting. Always have resources available for moms who may need them.

5. Connect with organizations that are doing research and lobbying for better care for women with perinatal mood disorders.

Please remember that while there are many things we can do for families dealing with perinatal mood disorders, as doulas and educators, we are not medical professionals and cannot diagnose or treat any of these illnesses.

This is why it is important to know your local resources and be able to put families in contact with the appropriate professionals.

Resources:
Dark Side of the Full Moon Movie
Dr Shoshana Bennett, MD
Postpartum Support International
Postpartum Progress

 

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By Carnley Proud, CCCE, CLD

Wonderfully Made Birth

CAPPA Faculty

Copyright CAPPA 2015

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