New York state recommends action to address maternal mental health

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NEW YORK – The New York state health department outlined a new effort to address the dire need for mental health care during and after pregnancy.

After studying the statistics from across the state, the Maternal Mortality Review Board found the third-leading cause of pregnancy-related deaths is among the most treatable.

“We really examined each case in order to see, where was there a point that we could have intervened to have a better outcome?” said Dr. Marilyn Kacica, medical director for the state’s family health division.

The board found mental health contributed to 19.5% of pregnancy-related deaths, including cases where it initially was not considered a factor. The risk continues up to one year after giving birth.

“Postpartum is forever,” said doula Ashley Duran, who founded Sacred Labor of Love. “Once you give birth, your body has transformed.”

Earlier this year, Gov. Kathy Hochul allocated $20 million to fund holistic pregnancy programs, like Mothership NYC in Harlem, which supports Duran in her work.

“It’s important to make sure that they feel empowered and they feel like their body is able to do this,” Duran said.

The state now encourages a continuum of care, even if it means continuing anti-depressants, acknowledging nearly half of all these deaths involved discrimination, with patient wishes ignored.

“Everyone is concerned, of course, about the infant,” Kacica said, admitting there is little data on the effect on an unborn child, “but maternal health matters, and mental health is key to maternal health.”

The board has four recommendations for providers. Consider continuing mental health medications throughout the pregnancy, even at a lower dose. Screen regularly for depression throughout and after the pregnancy. Coordinate mental health treatment for the patient, if needed. Finally, the board wants doctors to expand their own education by spreading the word about the statistics.

The mental health department’s Project Teach has tools to help.

“We get these messages out, and then we help providers in their journey to addressing this,” Kacica said.

Her team also plans to promote expanded postpartum health coverage among insurance providers.

“I look forward to seeing the time where we are uplifting all these different phases of a birthing person’s life because it’s important,” Duran added.

You can join the public awareness campaign by following #MaternalHealthMatters.

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