America still has leaps and bounds to go in medically and legitimately treating mental health as we do physical health.
In the past week, a national task force issued new recommendations published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that doctors across the U.S. shouldn’t wait until pregnant women or mothers are already depressed to act.
According to an Associated Press report, up to 1 in 7 women experience what’s called perinatal depression, depression during pregnancy or after childbirth, according to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Different and more serious than the “baby blues,” it can leave mothers feeling intense sadness, anxiety and worthlessness, drained of energy and unable to bond with their baby. In severe cases, some may think about harming themselves or their baby.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force describes itself as “an independent, volunteer panel of national experts in disease prevention and evidence-based medicine. The Task Force works to improve the health of all Americans by making evidence-based recommendations about clinical preventive services.”
“Clinicians should use patient history and risk factors to identify pregnant or postpartum individuals who are most likely to benefit from counseling,” says Task Force member Dr. Aaron B. Caughey in a press statement. “Patients who are pregnant and concerned about depression should talk to their doctor.”
This requires that our state organizations, like the Utah Department of Health, as well as local county health agencies and major health care providers educate moms-to-be about mental health during and after pregnancy. It should be on the same list of things to talk about with a provider that nutrition, exercise, ultrasounds and other screenings are routinely a part of.
This is especially critical in Utah, where the birth rate in 2017 was 15.7 per 1,000 residents compared to the national average of 11.8 in the same year.
The Utah Department of Health reports that there were 48,578 live births to Utah residents in 2017, the highest birth rate in the U.S.
With more Utah moms having babies than the rest of the country, we will have more mothers at risk needing to be screened — and it should not happen for the first time at a six-week checkup after the baby is born. Six weeks after giving birth can be eternity for a mother silently struggling with postpartum depression.
In fact, Utah Department of Health claims that at least 14 percent of Utah moms struggle with symptoms they may not link with depression or anxiety such as problems such as insomnia, avoiding family or friends, irritability, anger, lack of enjoyment in things they used to love, scary thoughts they are afraid of, or wishing they could disappear.
So, what can we do to enhance the mental wellbeing of our mothers and women around us? If they aren’t aware, help them know that depression can happen while pregnant and that counseling can significantly improve their mental health leading up to a baby’s birth and after. Ask your health care provider for a screening if you are pregnant and concerned you might be at risk. It’s not something that we should associate with shame; it is as legitimate as (and eventually routine as) checking nutrition and immunizations.
Let’s better protect and care for our moms and babies by including mental wellbeing as part of the conversation.