Up to 20 percent of new or expectant mothers in California will experience a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder during pregnancy or the first year following childbirth. Maternal depression is a common experience of women in the U.S., affecting more mothers than gestational diabetes and preeclampsia combined. Here in Monterey County, an estimated 1,000 women annually experience postpartum depression symptoms, representing 15 percent of the women giving birth.

Maternal mental health disorders include depression, anxiety and the less common but most severe of the disorders, postpartum psychosis. Untreated disorders can significantly and negatively impact the health and well-being of women and their children. Additionally, the financial costs of not addressing these conditions can be significant (for example, more use of emergency care services and higher rates of absenteeism at work).

Despite negative consequences of untreated maternal mental health disorders, screening is not routine. New California laws that take effect July 1 will require that obstetric providers either confirm prior screening for maternal depression or to screen women directly. It also requires health insurers to create maternal mental health programs.

All women are at risk for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, however some are at a higher risk due to the conditions in which people are born, live and work. Women who experience symptoms of depression during pregnancy, black and Latina women, those with an income level below poverty, and women on Medi-Cal for prenatal care all have a higher risk.

Mental Health Awareness Month is the perfect time to talk about challenges – and solutions. We in the Monterey County Maternal Mental Health Task Force are concerned that Monterey County mothers are at a higher risk for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. In our county, 77 percent of new mothers are Latina, 50 percent have incomes below the federal poverty guideline and 59 percent of births are covered by Medi-Cal. Additionally, more women in Monterey County (25 percent) were uninsured postpartum than the California state average.

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The good news is that these disorders are treatable. The Monterey County Maternal Mental Health Task Force, chaired by the Monterey County Behavioral Health Bureau, leads work on strategies to expand access and improve treatment and support for maternal mental health.

One strategy is to break down stigma associated with mental health, and this is especially true for new moms. 2020MOM is a statewide organization at the forefront, in partnership with The Blue Dot Project, behind the #MakingOverMotherhood campaign and talking openly about the struggles mothers often hide.

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