Innovative partnerships in Southwest Virginia focus on mental health after birth
We have been living through a global health crisis for more than two years and new research indicates that the effects of the pandemic on our collective mental health have been significant. About two in five adults in the United States have symptoms of anxiety or depression. This is a figure four times higher than before COVID-19.
Pregnant women and new mothers are particularly susceptible to adverse mental health symptoms, particularly perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMAD), and the emotional stress associated with the pandemic has exacerbated these issues.
PMAD is the number one complication of pregnancy and childbirth, and it affects women of all cultures, ages, income levels and races. It is a range of emotional complications that can affect expectant or new parents at any time during pregnancy or the first year after birth. They usually impact the person giving birth, but fathers, partners, and adoptive parents can also experience anxiety, depression, and other mood swings after a baby arrives. Despite its prevalence, very few women are screened for PMAD or receive treatment to overcome it. A lack of awareness and understanding of PMADs is often the reason for the lack of intervention and support.
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To be clear, PMADs aren’t the so-called “baby blues,” a normal adjustment period where new moms can feel overwhelmed with their new responsibilities. PMAD are feelings of distress, anxiety, and depression—from mild to severe—that can debilitate new mothers for weeks, months, and, depending on the severity, even years. The condition requires professional help.
Providing this help is central to our mission at Postpartum Support Virginia (PSVa). Founded in 2009, PSVa has helped thousands of new and pregnant women and their families in Southwest Virginia overcome the anxiety and depression associated with childbirth. We are especially proud of our partnerships with Huddle Up Moms and the Lewis Gayle Midwives who help run a local support group, and the Virginia Neonatal/Perinatal Collaborative Fourth Trimester Project, alliances that are central to our efforts to community education.
Through these strategic collaborations, we provide essential training to health care workers and mental health providers so they can better recognize the signs and symptoms of mothers with PMAD. We also provide advice for mothers that provides them with emotional support, but also puts them on a healthier path for their mental well-being. We also reassure them that they are not the only ones feeling what they are feeling and that these feelings are temporary.
To help expand our work in Southwest Virginia, we are grateful for a recent grant from the Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation, whose commitment of $475,000 over the next three years will help us to reach more than 50,000 new mothers in Southwest Virginia and Hampton Roads. . The grant supports our collaborative rounds model where providers with expertise educate other providers about the implicit bias that is often present in maternal care. We also provide tools related to cultural humility, an acknowledgment of another person’s cultural differences. Through Community Collaborative Rounds, we work with our partners to identify early signs of psychosis and other risk factors for PMAD, including an assessment for suicide and substance use.
PSVa engages new moms through a variety of peer-led supports. We offer one-on-one phone, email and social media support, 24/7 phone and text support, virtual and in-person social support groups, and peer mentors who have lived experience with PMAD and can offer individual services. a help. This suite of programs provides enhanced levels of support at critical times for moms.
A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that the pregnancy-related death rate in the United States has risen steadily over the past three decades. This growth is fueled by the rising death rate among women of color. Sufficient attention to the mental health needs of these women is an important part of any solution to prevent pregnancy-related deaths and improve maternal health outcomes.
Restivo, executive director of Arlington-based Postpartum Support Virginia, lives in Fredericksburg with her son. Her experience with nonprofits includes working with underserved youth in New York City and alternatives to incarceration in the Bronx. She has served over 400 families as a birth and postpartum doula.