Mental Health America of Greater Houston: Women’s Mental Health Program

By Mental Health America of Greater Houston
Courtesy of the Texas Women’s Healthcare Coalition
May 20, 2020

It wasn’t that long ago that mental health was reluctantly discussed. People displaying mental health difficulties were often believed to have a weak mind or constitution, and their chances for seeking help were often dependent on their class, community, and status. Now, you’re liable to hear someone on the morning news discussing the importance of mental health as you sip your coffee. Self-care is all over social media, and casual conversations about seeking therapy are much more likely to come up during brunch with friends. People are finding empowerment in being honest about their mental health experiences. Thanks to increased awareness, the stigma associated with mental health is lifting in some communities. But, we still have a way to go in making sure that everyone knows the signs of mental health challenges, that no one feels the sting of dismissal, and that there are resources available for those in need.

In 1954, philanthropist Ima Hogg, established Mental Health America of Greater Houston, the longest serving mental health and advocacy organization in the area. MHA GH is dedicated to “promoting mental health services in our community in areas such as the children and school support, veterans, integrated health care, women’s health, and suicide prevention,” President and CEO, Renae Vania-Tomczak says. “Through collaboration with local organizations, we have effectively impacted the community with our mission to provide mental health solutions for all residents of the Greater Houston area.”

Low-income women past 60-days postpartum are screened for postpartum depression but only receive limited treatment for it under Healthy Texas Women. How does your Women’s Mental Health Program step into that gap?

Current data suggests that one- out of-seven new mothers suffers from a postpartum mood disorder. We know a mother’s health directly correlates to her child’s health, making it imperative to aid this population as quickly and effectively as possible. MHA GH is actively participating in local work groups on women’s maternal health initiatives. We are all working together as we try to determine best practices for patient communications. We work with providers – particularly pediatricians, as they are the ones who see mom most often – to screen for postpartum mood disorders and encourage mothers to reach out earlier if they need help.

Our team focuses on implicit bias with providers to share how they interact with patients and to reduce stigma, which may affect a mother’s willingness to reach out for help. We know that after 60 days postpartum three of the top five factors affecting maternal mortality rates are behavioral health related. That’s why we advocate for women.

MHA GH is keeping this in the forefront of the conversations to ensure we are implementing training and awareness for our providers as well as the community. Through our integrated care program, we work with several clinics, health centers, and charity organizations to embed these behavioral health services in multiple settings for greater accessibility. Individuals who may not have access to coverage, can still receive care at these locations.

On a legislative level, MHA GH has been part of coalitions built to advocate to extend Medicaid coverage for postpartum women beyond the existing 60-day window. Most postpartum mood disorders are not caught within that 60-day coverage period and Healthy Texas Women has limited service delivery to aid new mothers in need – leaving many mothers seeking acute care at emergency rooms and other state-or-county funded centers. While Medicaid extension is an uphill fight within the Texas Legislature, a solution must be created to help new mothers care for themselves and their babies. We are exploring options both to re-work existing Medicaid parameters legislatively and to collaborate with community partners to develop solutions outside of the Texas Legislature.

The following was excerpted from the Texas Women’s Healthcare Coalition. To read the entire article and learn more about the work of Mental Health America of Greater Houston and the Texas Women’s Healthcare Coalition, please visit the Texas Women’s Healthcare Coalition’s website.

To learn more about Mental Health America of Greater Houston’s Women’s Mental Health Program, please visit their website.

MHAGH Women's Mental Health Program