Maternal Mental Health Must Be Addressed

by Improving Maternal Health
September 10, 2020

Our society loves to love mothers. But only certain narratives of mothers. We place a lot of pressure on moms, even new ones, to be perfect and happy. In reality, motherhood is messy, and supporting mothers needs to include the good and the bad.

Compounded with the stress of a newborn and the biological changes that come along with adjusting to a new postpartum body, the pressure on mom to be happy often works the opposite way we want it to. As many as one in five new mothers experiences some type of perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (PMADs), which are frequently left untreated and can lead to really detrimental outcomes for mom and baby. 

We know that mental health has a direct relation to physical health. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, people with depression have an increased risk of developing many chronic illnesses—including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and stroke. However, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to exclude psychosocial factors, such as mental illness, in their measures of severe maternal morbidity. In hopes of pushing back against the stigma that mental illness is a reflection of character or moral failure rather than something desperately in need of attention, we bring awareness to maternal mental health during National Suicide Prevention Week

The hard truth is that, in Texas, suicide is one of the top five causes of maternal death. However, we cannot pin down the clear statistics because there is no national registry or database of suicide and overdose deaths that records pregnancy status. The lack of data on self-harm deaths in the pregnancy-postpartum period is alarming.

A recent report from Columbia University suggests that the rising rates of opioid use and depression are indeed propping up an already high maternal mortality rate in the U.S. while still managing to fly largely under the radar. The data may take some time to connect the dots we already know exist, but there is something we cannot wait to do and that is to support mothers now

Symptoms of PMADs can appear at any time throughout motherhood and 7 in 10 women are inclined to hide or downplay their symptoms. Don’t hesitate to check in with the women in your life, no matter what stage of their pregnancy journey they’re in. Open up a safe space for mom, so that even if she is not ready to share, she knows you are there. Whether you are unsure about how to approach this for the first time or you are touching base with mom again, a meaningful gesture goes a long way.

Challenge yourself to try out new ways of extending a hand with tips from our blog post. Let mom know that you are present to support her through all of the messiness and joy that motherhood can bring. And if you are a mother, know that you are not alone and there are always resources available. 

For more information, see Postpartum Support International

Postpartum Support International Helpline: 1-800-944-4773
Text: 503-894-9453 (English) 971-420-0294 (Spanish)
Note: PSI is not a crisis line.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 and provides free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals. 1-800-273-8255 or 1-800-273-TALK

National Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741 from anywhere in the USA and available 24/7.