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Awareness vital to fight against postpartum depression

September 13, 2011 - Mary Ann Heath
It wasn’t so long ago the horrifying story of Andrea Yates, a Texas woman that drowned all five of her children in the bathtub, shocked the world. At the time, I was still in college, and in disbelief that any child would die at the hand of his/her own mother.

Suddenly, news about postpartum depression and psychosis started popping up everywhere. Yates had tried twice before to commit suicide — she was hospitalized both times and diagnosed with postpartum depression and psychosis.

Prior to severe cases like this — and, of course, a scuffle between two famous Hollywood stars (Tom Cruise and Brooke Shields) — little was known about postpartum depression. Since then, a few more high-profile cases have appeared in the news, and awareness to stem the terrible effects of the illness has grown.

According to the National Institute of Health, as many as 10 to 15 percent of women are affected by postpartum depression (PPD) from a month to within a year of the birth of their child. Less than 1 percent develop postpartum psychosis.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has also recommended that:

• Pregnant women be educated about PPD during their third trimester.

• Obstetricians/gynecologists consult with their patients about their risk for psychiatric illness during the postpartum period.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has also stepped up to create more help for and increase awareness of the issue. While the bill stops short of any sort of “mandate” for states or health care providers, it does encourage activities on postpartum research.

The bill also establishes it is the “sense of Congress” that the director of the National Institute of Mental Health may conduct a study on the mental health consequences of resolving a pregnancy (either by carrying the child to term and raising that child, or through other means, i.e. adoption, abortion, miscarriage). A “sense of Congress,” is a fancy way to say Congress is sending a message or stating an opinion.

Once the study is complete, the director will submit a report on findings to Congress within five years.

The bill also makes it possible for the secretary of Health and Human Services to provide grants to “eligible entities.” These entities include: public or nonprofit private entities, including state or local government agencies, as well as public/private partnerships. These entities must use the grant in order to provide services to individuals/families with, or at-risk for a postpartum condition.

To qualify, the programs must provide education and services with respect to diagnosis and management of postpartum conditions. This includes:

• Delivering or enhancing outpatient and home-based health and support services, including case management and comprehensive treatment services.

• Delivering or enhancing inpatient care management services that ensure the well-being of the mother and family and the future development of the infant.

• Improving the quality, availability and organization of health care and support services (including transportation services, attendant care, homemaker services, day or respite care and providing counseling on financial assistance and insurance).

• Providing education about postpartum conditions to promote earlier diagnosis and treatment.

The secretary is also directed to conduct a study on the benefits of screening for postpartum conditions.

As a soon-to-be new mother, I hope postpartum depression is nothing I ever experience, however, it is comforting to know there are resources out there to help me if it does. During my many visits to the doctor, I’ve received information about postpartum depression, including a description of what it is, symptoms, and what I and loved ones can do if it happens. Everyone should be entitled to this same information.

While I have no personal experience with postpartum depression, I did have a friend who committed suicide in high school, and I know that building awareness is key to help bring an end to the painful effects of mental illness. It’s nice to see the bill move in this direction.

Mary Ann Heath has been reading and blogging about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act since January. Her goal is to read all 906 pages of the bill.


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