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Maternal Mental
Health Month

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By Heather A. Flynn
FSU College of Medicine

Imagine a pregnant woman who is at risk for gestational diabetes or high blood pressure but is never screened or assessed for those dangerous conditions. Just as we educate, screen and treat people for other debilitating health issues, we must do the same for mental health issues.

May is Maternal Mental Health Month. The Tallahassee City Commission and Leon County Commission have proclaimed this Maternal Mental Health Week. There is one basic message for these awareness efforts: Mental health IS health. And you’re invited to discuss that issue with us Thursday night (May 11).

The efforts of the FSU College of Medicine and the Leon County Maternal Mental Health Coalition center on awareness, education, policy and improved service related to mental health for women and their families around the time of having a child.

Although awareness of postpartum depression has increased, a number of drastically under-addressed issues affect the health and well-being of women and their families before, during and after pregnancy. Some people might be surprised to learn that:

• Up to 1 in 5 women experience depression or anxiety around pregnancy. That translates to approximately 35,000 women per year in Florida.
• Up to 75 percent of those women are not screened or treated.
• Left untreated, those mental health conditions are associated with greater likelihood of maternal suicide, child abuse or neglect and, in rare cases, infanticide.
• The effect of maternal mental health on babies is profound and leads to changes in genes as well as significant health risks for the next generation.
• Women who are African-American, Hispanic or living with poverty are less likely to receive the care they need and deserve.
• The combination of depression and related health issues around pregnancy is commonly considered the second-most burdensome illness in the world, more so than cancer and diabetes.
• Despite the burden and prevalence, mental health has not received the same attention as other disabling conditions and illnesses.
• Effective treatments exist but are rarely used in routine health care practice.

To address those gaps, a number of local and statewide efforts are emerging. For Leon and Gadsden counties, a Maternal Mental Health Coalition was formed in 2014. Its steering committee includes survivors, advocates, clinicians, agencies, health care organizations, researchers and students.

The local coalition has gathered input from over 200 residents about maternal mental health needs and possible solutions in awareness/advocacy, training/education, clinical and service capacity and research.

In 2015 came the Florida Statewide Maternal Mental Health Collaborative. Here is one of its accomplishments: North Florida Women’s Care now routinely screens pregnant and postpartum patients for depression. We also have developed an online mental health resource guide (www.med.fsu.edu/mentalhealth).

On Thursday, we are hosting a community dinner and dialogue on maternal stress and mental health at the Oliver Hill Community Center, 2710 Country Club Drive, 5:30-7:30 p.m. Many other events are scheduled this year. If our efforts are successful, all women with mental health risk will receive the care and support they need to thrive.

For more information on the local or statewide Maternal Mental Health Coalition, contact Flynn at Heather.Flynn@med.fsu.edu. She is an associate professor at the Florida State University College of Medicine, and co-director of the FSU Center for Behavioral Health Integration med.fsu.edu/