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Promoting Mental Health During Pregnancy and Postpartum

Did you know that the most common complication of pregnancy and postpartum is an emotional one? Did you know that only 17% of women who are diagnosed with a perinatal (pregnancy and postpartum) emotional complication get treatment?

The numbers are staggering. Twenty percent of women meet the criteria for depression and 17% for anxiety during pregnancy. During the postpartum period, research indicates that 21% of women experience postpartum depression, 17% experience anxiety, others will be diagnosed with OCD, PTSD, and a small few (0.01%), with postpartum psychosis. About 10% of men will also meet the criteria for depression between the first trimester and the first year postpartum.

What are we doing to ensure that we are birthing healthier families? Recent legislation in Massachusetts has significantly increased utilization of the new program MCPAP for MOMS which started in July 2014. MCPAP for MOMS offers families’ professional consultation with an on-call perinatal psychiatrist and access to care coordinators who help streamline the referral process for therapy, support groups, and treatment. What is happening in your state?

The good news is that there are effective treatments for perinatal emotional complications. Oftentimes treatment includes therapy, lifestyle changes, increased support, and occasionally acupuncture and/or medication. So how do you find this kind of specialized treatment and support in your local community? First, let your birth team know that you are seeking support; they often keep lists of resources.

For additional names contact Postpartum Support International (PSI) which keeps state by state resources that anyone can access by calling the “warmline” (not a hotline, but a place you leave a message and someone calls you back) or check out their web listings, which often provides a list of clinicians and groups.

If this is your first time looking for a therapist and you’re not sure what questions to ask, check out the ones below. Be reassured that just because someone is qualified does not necessarily mean they are the right fit for you.

Questions to ask:

  1. Are you licensed by the state as a mental health clinician, social worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist?
  2. Do you have experience treating pregnancy and postpartum mood and anxiety disorders?
  3. Do you have community connections if I need resources in addition to therapy like support groups?

It takes strength to ask for and receive help. If you do not feel like yourself, because of sleep or mood changes, during or after your pregnancy let your birth team know.  Don’t wait until after the birth to seek help if you need it sooner. Pregnancy and parenting is hard enough without the added layer of a perinatal emotional complication; get help now and get on a path back toward yourself, and remember, treatment works!

By: Mara Acel-Green, MSW, LICSW

Mara Acel-Green is a psychotherapist in Watertown, MA and owner of Strong Roots Counseling. Mara has a specialty in pregnancy and postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. In addition to her private practice and adjunct faculty position at Northeastern University, she is the past President of the Board of Directors of Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies of Massachusetts. Mara’s written work can be seen on Huffington Post as well as on her website. Mara was trained at Smith School for Social Work and obtained a certificate in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy at Boston University.

Photo Credit: Katie Hickey