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Mother’s Day is today. Mothers everywhere are looking forward to being treated to breakfast in bed, flowers, a card, or maybe just a big hug from their children. But do you know what the best gift for any mom really is? The gift of mental health.
Let’s raise awareness for this important topic, support our mothers, and advocate for positive change: Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month is May, Maternal Mental Health Week is May 2-8.
Why is maternal mental health so important? According to The Blue Dot Project and the Maternal Mental Health Leadership Alliance:
• Maternal mental health conditions are the most common complications of pregnancy and childbirth. One in five women will experience depression, anxiety, or other mental health concerns during pregnancy or during the year after giving birth (800,000 U.S. women per year).
• Up to 50 percent of women living in poverty experience these issues.
• Remarkably, 75 percent of women coping with pregnancy/postpartum mood challenges will go untreated.
• Suicide and overdose are leading causes of death during the postpartum year.
• Public health research has estimated that untreated maternal mental health conditions cost $32,000 per mother-child dyad ($14 billion nationally).
No one is immune from maternal mental health problems. Women of every culture, age, income level and race can develop mental health issues during pregnancy or following childbirth. Birthing persons can also be non-cisgender, nonbinary, trans, adoptive, not genetically related to their offspring, single, or otherwise do not fit our narrow definition of “mother,” and still be susceptible to maternal mental health issues. In fact, persons in these marginalized groups are even more likely to experience depression, anxiety, or other mood issues during pregnancy or the postpartum period, and they will experience even more barriers to treatment.
Ultimately, poor maternal mental health extends far beyond the mother or birthing person. Statistics show that 1 in 10 fathers will experience a mental health disorder following their child’s birth. The ripples extend even further: whether it is one parent or both who is battling mental illness, the infant and other children in the home often experience significant consequences including preterm birth/low birth weight, impaired parent-child interactions, and behavior, cognitive, or emotional delays.
Catching maternal mental health problems before they have far-reaching and lasting impact is vital. Screening during prenatal care, with provision of appropriate treatment options, can make a huge difference because a mom doesn’t always know what’s “normal” and what’s not, and stigma can stop her from asking for help. There are effective and well-researched treatment options available, including psychotherapy and psychiatric medications. The Women’s Wellness & Counseling Service at the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics (https://uihc.org/womens-wellness-and-counseling-service) offers both.
If you are experiencing maternal mental health issues, please reach out to your health care provider, your family, and friends. You can call Postpartum Support for non-crisis help (800-944-4773) or go to its website (https://www.postpartum.net/) to learn more about the symptoms of perinatal mental health conditions, and search for local mental health care providers or online support groups. If you are in crisis, go to your local Emergency Room or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255). And remember, as the Postpartum Support International tagline notes, “You are not alone and you are not to blame. Help is available. You will get better.”
Stacey Pawlak, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.