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Innovative partnerships in Southwest Virginia focused on post-birth mental health

Innovative partnerships in Southwest Virginia focused on post-birth mental health
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Mandolin Restivo

We’re over two years into a global health crisis and emerging research indicates that the pandemic’s effects on our collective mental health have been significant. About two in five adults in the US experience symptoms of anxiety or depression. It is a figure four times higher than before COVID-19.

Pregnant women and new mothers are especially susceptible to adverse mental health symptoms, especially Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs), and pandemic-related emotional stress has exacerbated these issues.

PMADs are the number one complication of pregnancy and childbirth, and they affect women of every culture, age, income level and race. They are a spectrum of emotional complications that can affect expectant or new parents at any point during pregnancy or the first year after birth. They usually impact the birthing person, but fathers, partners, and adoptive parents can also experience anxiety, depression and other mood disorders after a baby’s arrival. Despite its prevalence, very few women are screened for PMADs or provided treatment to overcome them. A lack of awareness and understanding of PMADs are often the reason for the lack of intervention and support.

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To be clear, PMADs are not the so-called “baby blues,” a period of normal adjustment when new moms can feel overwhelmed by their new responsibilities. PMADs 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 that help is at the core of our mission at Postpartum Support Virginia (PSVa). Founded in 2009, PSVa has helped thousands of new and expectant women and their families across southwest Virginia to overcome the anxiety and depression associated with childbirth. We are particularly proud of our partnerships with Huddle Up Moms and the Lewis Gayle Midwives who help to facilitate a local support group, and the Virginia Neonatal/Perinatal Collaborative’s Fourth Trimester Project, alliances that are at the heart of our community-based education efforts.

Through these strategic collaborations, we are providing critical training to healthcare workers and mental health providers so that they can better recognize the signs and symptoms of mothers experiencing PMADs. We also provide counseling to mothers provides them with emotional support but that also puts them on a healthier path forward in their mental wellbeing. We also provide them with the reassurance that they are not alone in how they are feeling, and that these feelings are temporary.

To help expand our work in southwest Virginia, we are grateful for a recent grant by the Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation, whose $475,000 commitment over the next three years will help us 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 within maternal care. We also provide tools related to cultural humility, a recognition of another person’s cultural differences. Within Community Based Collaborative Rounds, we work with our partners to identify early signs of psychosis and other risk factors related to PMADs, including a suicide and substance use assessments.

PSVa engages new moms through a variety of peer-led supports. We offer one-on-one support via telephone, email, and social media, 24/7 phone and text support, virtual and in-person social support groups, and peer mentors who have lived experience with PMADs and can offer one-on- one help. This suite of programming provides reinforced layers of support at critical times for moms.

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A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that the pregnancy-related mortality rate in the United States has risen steadily over the past three decades. This growth is fueled by increases in the mortality rate among women of color. Sufficient attention on 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 working in alternatives to incarceration in the Bronx. She has served over 400 families as a birth and postpartum doula.

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