Universal Mental Health Screening for Pregnant and New Mothers is a Must

Universal Mental Health Screening for Pregnant and New Mothers is a Must

 Every mother. Every time.

A pregnant mother of three drove her minivan into the ocean at Daytona Beach yesterday. She was reportedly incoherent when questioned by police and is undergoing a mental health evaluation at a local hospital. She is believed to be suffering from psychosis. 

Every mother. Every time.  

A mother in Chicago is being held on $1 million dollar bail today after she tried to kill herself and her 8 month old son by causing head on collisions with other vehicles, not once, but twice. 

Every mother. Every time. 

Out of ignorance I used to judge mothers who committed such acts. But during my second pregnancy, I started experiencing symptoms of antenatal depression and had fleeting thoughts of suicide. After I gave birth, I spent the first year of my son's life crippled with anxiety, despair, and found myself planning suicide 2 months before his first birthday. I wanted to be free of what my mind had fallen prey to. I wanted relief from the intense mood swings, frenzied OCD, and graphic intrusive thoughts that flashed in my mind unwarranted and unwelcomed. (Full disclosure: Driving my car into a body of water or into oncoming traffic? I've had those thoughts. Learn more about intrusive thoughts here)

Thankfully I found hope and help after a google search led me to Postpartum Progress, and I read about the full scope of perinatal mood disorders and their symptoms in "plain mama English." I sought and began treatment;  my diagnosis eventually changed to rapid cycling bipolar 2, OCD, and anxiety, and when it did, I began a medication regiment that included a mood stabilizer instead of just an antidepressant.

I don't judge anymore. Instead I recognize and question if these mothers recieved adequate help and support. I wonder if they felt safe enough to reveal their struggles or if the stigma surrounding mental illness in motherhood choked them into silent suffering. I wonder if  their obstectricians were taking them seriously if they disclosed struggling with the mood swings hormone fluctuations during and after pregnancy trigger. I wonder if their obsetricians and children's pediatricians screened them for depression and anxiety during pregnancy and beyond the 6 week postpartum check up. I wonder if they were told that depression and anxiety during and after pregnancy can manifest as rage, obsessive thought patterns and behaviors, and if they were made aware of the symptoms of postpartum psychosis, and told what to do if they began to hear voices or have delusions. I wonder if anyone told them that having an intrusive thought doesn't make them a bad mother, and doesn't mean they will harm themselves or their child. 

I wonder. 

I wonder what it will take for the medical community and our society to take maternal mental health seriously. I wonder when we'll give just as much care to women's minds as we do their bodies during and after pregnancy. I wonder how many more women and their children have to die because we aren't making a mother's mental health our priority when we care for and treat them.  

Every mother. Every time. 

What will it take for every obsetrician, every pediatrician, every insurance company to screen mother's during pregnancy and their infant's first year? Suicide is THE leading cause of death among women in their first year after childbirth, yet we stop screening for PPD, PPA, and postpartum psychosis after 6 weeks-if we screen at all. At least 50% of the 1 in 7 women who suffer from a PMAD go untreated, whether it's due to lack of screening, or access to support and mental healthcare. 

What will it take to screen and care for every mother, every time? What will it take to offer our mothers and their babies treatment and hope? 

 

There is hope. Women don't have to listen to the siren call of despair. Treatment makes recovery possible. We don't have to leave women to suffer silently on their own, trapped in their minds, unable to free themselves. But too often, we do. Women are being missed and overlooked. 

Every mother. Every time. We must screen. We must be louder than stigma's voice. We must enoucrage our mothers to seek treatment. 

If you believe universal mental health screening for pregnant and new mothers should be mandatory, please consider signing this White House petition. If you or someone you know is currently suffering, please know you are not alone. You are not a bad mother. There is hope and there is help. You can find information and resources at Postpartum Progress, and you can find a community of support on Twitter through the #PPDChat hashtag, and Postpartum Progress' private support forum. 

To read some more about my experience with PPD & Bipolar Disorder during pregnancy, you can visit my blog,  and read guest posts I've written here and here

 

(addyeB)

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