Close to Home: More than the baby blues

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Up to 1 in 5 women will suffer from postpartum depression, but most will never be diagnosed or treated.

When not diagnosed, families suffer in silence. If untreated, the condition can last months, even years, leaving the possibility for the child-parent relationship to be negatively affected. The mother’s ability to care for her child is also in jeopardy.

Symptoms can include frequent crying, feelings of anger, suicidal thoughts, worry about hurting the child or doubt about one’s ability to mother. These symptoms aren’t the fault of the mother, and mothers should not feel stigmatized for experiencing them. Postpartum depression occurs in 15% of births, and more than 400,000 infants are born every year to mothers who experience postpartum depression, which makes it the most underdiagnosed illness in the United States.

To address the frequency with which this illness goes undiagnosed, there needs to be an increase in screening, quality services and preventative measures, since perinatal suicide risks are relatively high at the nine- and 12-month mark.

I serve as a peer support staff member for the Child Parent Institute in Santa Rosa. I provide support services for mothers through the Perinatal Mood Disorder Program, and I have witnessed positive treatment outcomes. The Child Parent Institute aims to support mothers with postpartum depression by strengthening how they manage their mood to support parent resiliency. In Sonoma County, there are a variety of nonprofits and private practices that provide screening, assessment and treatment, with the Child Parent Institute being just one of the available locations.

In 2018, then-Gov. Jerry Brown signed a maternal mental health package that includes AB 3032, which requires hospitals to develop programs to treat postpartum depression; AB 2093, which requires practitioners who provide prenatal or postpartum care to screen for maternal mental health conditions; and AB 1893, which requires the state Department of Public Health to seek federal funding for maternal mental health programs. These bills aims to close the gaps and offer greater access to preventative measures for postpartum depression. Before these policies take full effect next January, it is important that health care professionals continue to adhere to the guidelines and inform mothers that these services are available. This will ensure quality care is provided and that mothers can get help if they need it.

May is mental health awareness month, so it’s important to develop a community understanding of maternal mental health and raise awareness about the postpartum period. Postpartum depression is a reality with detrimental consequences. If someone you know is experiencing signs of postpartum depression, offer them emotional support, encourage them to talk to a health care provider and let them know they aren’t alone. Moms and babies need our concern and care.

Noreen Mendoza is a peer support staff member at the Child Parent Institute. She lives in Santa Rosa.

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