A Call-to-Action to Support Moms, Babies and Families in May and Every Month!

May is Mental Health Month, and we know that the health and well-being of a child can be impacted by the mental health of her parents. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) is supporting a statewide campaign focused on maternal mental health, specifically around pregnancy-related depression (PRD). Learn more about the campaign and how your organization can play a role in ensuring new mothers and their babies can thrive together!

by Phuonglan Nguyen, Young Child Wellness Specialist, CDPHE

The building blocks of a healthy pregnancy and birth consist of emotional and mental health as well as physical health care. The benefits of maternal wellness during and after pregnancy include a high quality of life and maternal functioning for mothers, babies being born on time and with healthy weights, strong mother-baby attachment; and healthy, happy and productive families. Good mental health in pregnant women and new mothers also promotes young children’s development, healthy social relationships, and success in school and life!

As we raise awareness about the importance of mental health and wellness during this year’s Mental Health Awareness Month, we continue to be reminded that for many expectant and new moms (and dads), the path to parenthood is neither smooth nor clear.

Pregnancy-related depression (PRD) and anxiety is the number one complication of pregnancy, affecting about one out of ten women Colorado, according to latest data from the state Pregnancy Risk Assessment and Monitoring System (PRAMS, 2012-14). According to the National Coalition of Maternal Mental Health, more women will get a maternal mental health complication than new cases of breast cancer.

Untreated depression and anxiety can have long-lasting consequences for moms, including decreased maternal functioning, mother-child bonding, and quality of life. Between 2004-12, nearly one-third of pregnancy-associated deaths in Colorado is attributed to suicide or overdose. This dataset from the Colorado Maternal Mortality Program calls to our attention to address maternal mental health issues earlier and more often.

Consequences for children born to depressed mothers have also been well-research, ranging from babies being born early or of low birth weight, to fundamental changes in the brain development process that can affect children’s ability to grow, learn and emotionally thrive in later years. Unfortunately, these are the potential risks for the nearly 20,000 children who were born to depressed mothers in Colorado between 2012 and 2014.

But even with many proven models of prevention and intervention available today – from peer support groups and talk therapy to lifestyle changes, social supports, and in some cases, medication – many continue to be hesitant in seeking help. Barriers to treatment range from limited access to culturally and linguistically competent, mental health services; lack of consistent, standardized screening, referral and follow-up mechanisms in health and mental health care settings; and last but not least, the fear of having to admit to having a number of “socially undesirable” feelings that go beyond the “baby blues”: Profound sadness, hopelessness, guilt and shame.

Over the years, we have taken many steps in Colorado to increase our own knowledge on the prevalence of PRD, its risk and protective factors, and mechanisms to increase screening and identification for PRD. Providers and partners across the state have also developed local infrastructure, networks, and capacity to address screening, referral and treatment using locally developed and community-centered mechanisms.

But in order to make the pathway (from screening to treatment) fully accessible to new and expectant parents, we must first clear off the debris that’s currently on this path – false stereotypes, negative attitudes, and social discrimination attached to new moms and dads experiencing pregnancy-related depression and anxiety.

We must also join moms and dads in talking about the health and mental health challenges of parenthood, walking with them through a path toward support, and wrapping our arms around all new moms and dads. If you are a mom or dad, know of one, or work with one, please take a moment to look at our public awareness campaign on pregnancy-related depression and anxiety. All the materials are downloadable, free and ready to print!

Visit www.postpartum.net/colorado to find local resources and supports or call toll-free 1-800-944-4773 (available in English and Spanish, 24/7).

Want to know more on how to integrate maternal wellness and early childhood social emotional development in your work? Check out this great blog by our local partners, the Denver’s Early Childhood Council and Denver Public Health. Interested in joining the growing statewide campaign, have a story you’d like to share about PRD, or want to share what you’re doing in your community to promote maternal mental health? Click here. To receive campaign updates, click here.