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Another Voice: Universal mental health screenings would help new moms

By Mary Badame

Last week, a woman from Rochester was charged with murder and admitted to drowning her 10-day-old son in a bathtub. While most details of the case remain unclear, a local publication has cited that Markiya Mitchell’s postpartum mental health is expected to be an essential element in the court proceedings to come.

This story brings to light the issues surrounding childbirth and mental health in the United States.

Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders can occur within days or months of childbirth. Though treatable, without access to appropriate health care, these conditions often last for weeks and can have a devastating impact.

Maternal mental health issues are one of the most common complications of pregnancy. The American Psychological Association reports that one in seven of all new mothers will experience perinatal depression. This number jumps to 38 percent for women of color, and soars to 56 percent for low-income urban mothers.

Several medical associations have given guidelines for screening new moms, most recently the American Medical Association. While a consensus on the specific timeline remains undecided, these organizations agree that universal screening should occur at various intervals during prenatal, postpartum and pediatric visits.

Despite the known prevalence of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders and myriad recommendations for screening, only 15 percent of women experiencing these conditions receive treatment.

Studies have shown that maternal mental health issues are not addressed by health care providers with adequate frequency, and the rates of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders in our country are rising. Further, women of color and economically disadvantaged mothers are disproportionately affected by postpartum mental health issues and face compounded structural barriers to accessing care.

In short, Mitchell slipped through some very wide cracks in our system of maternal health care.

We can and must do better for new moms in our community.

The Western New York Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders Task Force is a collaboration of local providers, advocates and academics working to increase awareness and improve access to screening and treatment for families in our region.

By building a safety net of care, we can prevent the tragic consequences of untreated maternal mental health conditions.

A statewide directory of mental health professionals, support groups, and other resources is available online at postpartumny.org/resourcedirectory. The Postpartum Resource Center of New York also operates a free helpline at 855-631-0001 or 631- 422-2255 for Spanish speakers.

Most importantly, you are not alone.

Mary Badame is advocacy chairwoman for the WNY Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders Task Force.

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