Care for Your Mind acknowledges and appreciates the collaboration of the National Network of Depression Centers in developing this series.
Ann Smith, CNM, President, Postpartum Support International
For a woman suffering from perinatal depression, anxiety, or another mood disorder, there’s nothing scarier than feeling alone, abandoned, or without the help she so desperately needs.
I understand this issue all too well, because I had severe anxiety after giving birth to my second and third children. Unfortunately, there was little help available at the time. Those difficult experiences inspired me to make a lifelong commitment to the cause.
Now, I’m the president of Postpartum Support International (PSI), an organization dedicated to promoting awareness, prevention, and treatment of perinatal mental health issues. PSI offers a lifeline to moms in need in every state in the U.S. and across the globe.
For Moms, by Moms
PSI offers a crucial component of maternal recovery: community support.
Started by a new mother in the 1980s, PSI has grown exponentially over the years. We’ve expanded our efforts to include support groups, care referrals, provider training, and other much-needed services.
Being a mother comes with a responsibility that can feel crushing at times and women can’t do it alone. For mothers living with mood disorders, the experience becomes even more challenging. As the saying goes, “it takes a village,” and a well-adjusted child starts with a healthy mom.
I interact with many mothers who are experiencing symptoms of a mood disorder on a day-to-day basis and I see firsthand their inability to access care. Many also share a fear of reaching out or admitting to their struggles; they often think they’re the only ones suffering.
Above all, I want mothers to know they’re not alone. Good care is out there — and PSI can help them find it.
In many ways, PSI is a care liaison. We fill the gaps in provider care by offering coordination and peer support, helping moms find the right resources in their own communities.
Our phone-based Warmline (1-800-944-4PPD (4773)), for example, allows women and their families to call in for information and resources. They can leave messages (in English or Spanish) anytime, and the calls are returned every day of the week. It’s not a crisis line but a place for moms in need to turn for comfort and support. We also offer a weekly “Chat With an Expert” call, when people can call in and ask anything they choose.
Online, we offer moderated support groups so women can come together to share their stories. Our other web-based resources include posting boards, email forums, Facebook groups, and links. We also offer specialized support for partners, dads with postpartum reactions, military families, Spanish-speaking families, and Arabic-speaking families.
Our care isn’t limited by region. Every state has at least one volunteer PSI coordinator, many of whom have had personal experience with perinatal mood disorders. Some are professionals, some aren’t, but all are experts when it comes to the care that’s available in their state. That way, they’re able to offer specific recommendations to moms regarding where to turn for treatment. If you or someone you know is in need of support or assistance, visit postpartum.net and click on “Get Help,” then “Help in My Area: Support Map.” This will lead you to an expert volunteer who’s knowledgeable about all the available resources in your area.
On the provider side, we’ve developed a nationally-recognized, evidence-based training program for practitioners and social support networks. We work with nurses, primary care physicians, social workers, obstetricians, and psychologists, among others. Our trainings typically last two days and offer an in-depth look at perinatal mood disorder treatment, including a whole afternoon dedicated to medication. Once armed with this knowledge, providers feel much more comfortable caring for perinatal women. We’ve also partnered with the California-based advocacy group 2020 Mom to offer web-based training.
Additionally, we’re working to create a perinatal mental health certification process. Participating providers would be added to a national database, making qualified care easier to access and find.
All of our programs are funded through community support and partnerships. We’re financed by our generous members and donors, as well as grants, and our trainings are also a source of income. While national funding for medical care is crucial (and will be further discussed in a future post about legislation), PSI is an example of what can be accomplished with a relatively modest budget and community buy-in.
Ending Shame and Stigma
Like any other health issue, perinatal mental health issues are rooted in biology. They’re nothing to be ashamed of and no mom has to suffer in silence. In addition, there are excellent care options available; PPD and other mental health issues have proven highly treatable.
Because of a few tragic stories that have made national news, many people equate PPD with postpartum psychosis. In fact, the two are different illnesses with different treatment modalities. Psychosis is rare (approximately 2 in 1,000 live births), and involves a break from reality where the mother starts hearing voices or is told by an invisible entity to take actions that are not rooted in reality. Any woman with symptoms of psychosis should be taken to the emergency room immediately. It’s important to note, also, that psychosis is also a treatable condition.
Moms shouldn’t fear. Regardless of their issue, treatment and support are available. Help is out there and women need to know they’re entitled to it. While the medical system has a long way to go, PSI and other groups are here for women in their times of need.
- If you or someone you know experienced perinatal depression or anxiety, what resources and services were available? Which were helpful?
- What question would you ask during a PSI “Chat with an Expert” call for moms or dads?
- What would you tell your legislators about addressing maternal mental health?
Ann Smith, CNM, is a former PSI Board member, PSI Presidents Advisory Council member, nurse-midwife, PSI Support Coordinator in New York City, PPD survivor, lecturer on perinatal mood disorders to health professionals, a facilitator on PSI Chat with an Expert forum, and led a postpartum depression support group in New York for many years. She has a BA from Briarcliff College, a BSN from Cornell and an MSN from Columbia University. Ann has been a practicing nurse midwife and women’s health nurse practitioner for more than 30 years. She has 3 grown children and lives in New York City. Ann became interested in perinatal mood disorder after experiencing severe anxiety and depression after her 2nd and 3rd children before much was known about good treatment. She has been committed to women and families suffering from PMAD ever since.