Alabama has a long way to go in supporting mothers.
The inaugural report made by the Policy Center for Maternal Mental Health shows that the U.S. is not doing enough to support mothers with mental health care and the state of Alabama received a failing grade. Out of 17 awards offered for supportive structures, Alabama received only one award for Postpartum Medicaid Extension. Maternal mental health support was overlooked for a long time and while people are starting to recognize its part in the growing maternal mortality rate, more effort is still necessary.
Since January’s incident where Lindsay Clancy, a mother from Massachusetts, allegedly killed her children, more attention has been put into maternal mental health. A National Maternal Mental Health Hotline funded by the federal government received 12,000 calls in its first year of implementation and the numbers are only increasing.
Clancy’s case was humbling and a wake-up call for many, but it was also one of many cases that slipped through the cracks. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), postpartum depression occurs in 1 out of 8 cases while postpartum anxiety occurs in 1 in 10 cases. Similarly, according to Postpartum Support International, postpartum psychosis occurs in 1 or 2 cases for every 1,000 deliveries. Postpartum mental conditions are not rare and should, therefore, receive the due attention they deserve to avoid extreme cases like Lindsay Clarke’s or the thousands of other mothers who resorted to suicide or drug abuse to deal with their issues.
The problem of maternal mental health disorders should be addressed right from the very beginning with a proper diagnosis. Most mothers go undiagnosed, especially since they don’t present with most of the symptoms right off the bat.
In Alabama about two-thirds of the mothers who died within a year of giving birth were enrolled in Medicaid, which is especially unfortunate, since Alabama is among the 10 states that haven’t expanded Medicaid.
Additionally, there is a severe lack of knowledge, as well as a lack of specialized treatments and professionals to handle perinatal mental health support. Therapy is ideal for mothers since it helps them at least recognize that they are struggling so that they can seek additional help to avoid going over the edge.
More importantly, access to knowledge of mental illness and mental health support needs to be improved. While the hotline is a nice addition, it is also only one of many other options that could be provided to struggling mothers. For instance, OB-GYNs enrolled in the Previa Alliance Program can refer clients to a HIPAA-compliant website, which provides screening for mental health issues, can be used to set up appointments with professionals, and contains a library of evidence-based videos and other digital learning tools created by professionals for mothers.
It should also be noted that a strong support network is a necessity to provide mothers with the social support they need to get through their postpartum mental illness. Community support systems should also be set up as a priority for mothers going through therapy. Alternatively, mothers can find support through a professional’s recommendation to find people dealing with, or who have overcome, similar situations.