Maternal mental health illnesses are the #1 complication of pregnancy and childbirth. Up to 1 in 5 women display symptoms of perinatal mood or anxiety disorders. In high-risk populations, the rate increases up to 1 in 3 women. Studies show that 75% of the women who experience symptoms go untreated. This increases the need for better access to and utilization of screening tools vital to the health of pregnant and new mothers. It’s also important to know what to look for and the signs of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.
What to look for
Sometimes referred to as the baby blues, postpartum depression occurs after childbirth. However, recent research has expanded the time frame to include pregnancy in the development of symptoms. Women might experience symptoms of feeling sad, lonely, tired, and/or stressed. There also might be changes in energy, sleep, and appetite.
Although up to 1 in 3 moms are affected – vast racial inequities exist for treatment. There is a disproportionate number of Black and Latinx women who suffer from these conditions who do not receive adequate services. Importantly, white women are nearly twice as likely to receive mental health treatment. Low-income populations already have a higher chance of being exposed to toxic stress, like poverty, racism, trauma, food and housing insecurity, thus compounding the need for better treatment options.
The racial disparities in screening and treating maternal mental health illnesses have only increased since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has, without a doubt, contributed to the stress, anxiety, and depression many pregnant women and new mothers experience. Maternal stress during pregnancy and the perinatal period can have lasting effects on child neurobehavioral development and health.
Expectant and new mothers are facing the uncertainty of today’s world on top of the already vulnerable transition into having a newborn. We envision a future when all states will have mandates requiring screening for perinatal/postpartum depression. Maternal mental health illnesses are preventable, treatable, and temporary conditions and no woman should have to face this road alone.