April 1st, 2010

Postpartum depression bill pondered

According to University of Minnesota researchers, 10 to 20 percent of new mothers suffer postpartum depression; however, fewer than half the cases are recognized. The Massachusetts legislature is attempting to reduce the incidence of postpartum depression through House Bill 3897, which would require regular screening for all new moms in the Commonwealth.

A staunch supporter of the bill, Susan Kushner Resnick, author of “Sleepless Days,” suffered for months before learning she had postpartum depression. The proposed bill would help postnatal women avoid the anxiety, depression, sleep difficulties, feelings of helplessness and other symptoms that sometimes occur following childbirth. “It’s important [that this legislation become law] because, unlike many illnesses, postpartum depression is relatively easy to treat but trickier to diagnose. This legislation would make diagnosis more likely, so women can get help,” she says.

Both mom and baby would benefit from this bill, since a child’s well being depends on the mother, says Deborah Issokson, Psy.D., owner of Counseling for Reproductive Health and Healing, a private practice in Wellesley and Pembroke. “Highly anxious or depressed mothers will impact a baby’s development,” she says.

The bill recommends pediatricians screen mothers during well-baby visits. “After six weeks, the pediatrician is the medical provider most seen,” Issokson says. “Lots of moms physically present well. If all they are being asked is how the baby is doing, no one is asking the mom the important questions,” she says, asserting that identifying and understanding a postpartum diagnosis enables the mother to devise a plan to tolerate the situation. A simple survey would ask standard questions about the mother’s mental status.

One of the most popular postpartum depression screening tools, the 10-question Edinburgh Postnatal Scale, takes five minutes to administer and 30 seconds to score, according to Issokson. She says that should answers raise a red flag, the medical provider would suggest a visit with a mental health professional.

The proposed bill also calls for an educational component as well as the creation of a comprehensive list of psychotherapeutic providers for at-risk women. Issokson has been involved in trainings for mental health and medical professionals who come into contact with families. Last fall, she conducted a workshop for pediatricians and family practitioners of the Cape and Islands Maternal Depression Task Force to help improve screening skills and reduce fear and resistance to the concept. “Wherever there is a link between medical and mental health, it’s important for us to create collegial relationships so we are giving coordinated care,” she says.

By Phyllis Hanlon

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