By Elisabeth Netherton, MD and Jessica Combs Rohr, PhD
October 28, 2020
Many of the burdens exacerbated by the pandemic fall heavily on the weight of women’s shoulders. The gender pay gap, household responsibilities, and child-rearing are issues and responsibilities that women have been juggling for a long time but are now more compounded than ever.
The Menninger Clinic team, spearheaded by psychiatrist Elisabeth Netherton and psychologist Jessica Rohr, has created a virtual program focused on maternal mental health called Menninger Moms. Hoping to lend support to mothers in any stage of their lives, the program is accessible to mothers all over Texas.
Many different options are available, including individual therapy, support groups, and family therapy. Menninger Moms supports women through managing guilt, coping with crises, improving communication with partners, and much more.
“I’ve found that often it’s helpful for women to discuss many of the burdens they’ve been carrying with people who aren’t in their immediate circles,” says Elisabeth Netherton. “Women can fear judgment when they tell other moms at their child’s preschool that they’ve been overwhelmed. There’s a real pull to make things look like you have it all together.
“With this program and my practice in general,” continued Elisabeth, “I hope to be a person who women can open up to, and through our groups connect them with other mothers who may be going through the same things. I fell in love with psychiatry in the first place largely because of the opportunity to connect with patients and walk beside them through struggles they didn’t know they don’t have to shoulder alone.”
Jessica Rohr shares her why, saying, “As I moved along in training and my career, I became more aware of disparities in the research on women’s health issues, especially for mothers. I am a mom and struggled after my daughter was born, and I’m a psychologist! Feeling like I ‘should have known’ enough to avoid any depression, but still experiencing it, was a major wake-up call for me in terms of the barriers to accessing and using mental health services as a mother.”
“I have since realized what a huge gap there is both in the research on maternal mental health and on evidence-based interventions to improve the lives of mothers, and I am passionate about working to close that gap,” Jessica remarked. “I have also found the work immensely rewarding, both in empowering women to make motherhood their own and in connecting women with others so they don’t feel so alone.”
After forging a passionate, accomplished career as a woman in medicine and having started a family herself, Elisabeth will be the first to tell you that she has leaned on other women for wisdom and support throughout.
“I think the best thing we can all do is be honest and authentic with the women in our own lives about our experiences and open up a space for mutual sharing. It is okay to not have the answers. It is okay to feel upset at the state of the world right now; it is okay to not know how to homeschool your 6th grader in algebra. Among the thousand things on a mom’s mind, holding yourself to a perfect standard should not be one.”
Jessica’s interest in psychology started in middle school. “I have always wanted to help people and being able to work with people so that they can help themselves is so rewarding. I have found my dream job (which I didn’t always think was possible!) where I can be involved in research and clinical work. This way, I develop research questions through work with patients, and I can develop important evidence-based interventions and use them with my patients.”
She closed by saying, “Improving maternal health in Harris County is critical, especially with our diverse population in terms of socioeconomic and ethnic/racial differences. We know that women of color, LGBT women, and impoverished women carry uniquely high risk for maternal morbidity and mortality. At the same time, Harris County houses the largest medical city in the world, with incredible resources and world-class researchers. This is a situation where both the problem and the potential solution are uniquely close to home.”
One phrase from her medical training that Elisabeth thinks of often is that “you should never worry alone.” Senior physicians tell the interns this in order to ensure patients are staying safe in teaching situations. However, she believes we can all embody this idea in any aspect of our lives to keep ourselves safe in these unprecedented times.
Reach out for help and reciprocate when needed. For more information on Menninger Moms, visit their website or call 713.275.5400.