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Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week Part 1: What is Maternal Mental Health?


May is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month, and May 1-7, 2023, represents Maternal Mental Health awareness week. The goal of this campaign each year is to raise awareness of mental health disorders impacting pregnant and parenting women and decrease shame and stigma. Dr. Melissa Hoffman, a reproductive Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner based in Lawrence, KS, contributed to this two-part series to increase understanding and support of maternal mental health. 

What is Maternal Mental Health?

"Mental health is something everyone has. Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Our mental health and physical health are equally important for our overall health. When we experience a mental health disorder or mental illness, it can affect how stress is managed, how we relate or communicate with others, and our choices and behavior. 

This awareness week is an ideal time to recognize the importance of mental health for all pregnant and parenting people. Perinatal refers to the time during pregnancy and one year after pregnancy. Much of the language and data surrounding perinatal mental health contains binary gender language. Build Your Village recognizes the various ways pregnant and parenting people identify, including transgender and gender-diverse people. 

Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMAD) is an umbrella term to represent the range of mental health disorders that can occur in pregnancy, after birth, after a pregnancy loss or loss of a baby, after an abortion, or after adoption. People of every gender identity, culture, age, income level, and race can experience a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder. People can enter into pregnancy with an existing mental illness, illness can develop in pregnancy, or occur up to 12 months after the pregnancy ends."

"Up to 1 in 5 women will suffer from a maternal mental health disorder like postpartum depression." The BlueDotProject

What is considered "typical"? When should one become concerned?

"Many new mothers and parents experience the “baby blues.” These are common symptoms new parents experience after pregnancy. Symptoms include crying, worrying, sadness, mood swings, trouble concentrating, difficulty sleeping, and not feeling yourself. These symptoms will progressively improve over the first two weeks following pregnancy. If the symptoms are severe or last longer than two weeks, a person may be experiencing a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (PMAD). 

In addition to depression and anxiety, PMAD includes adjustment disorders, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, and postpartum psychosis. 

If you or your loved one are experiencing symptoms that are impacting your ability to care for yourself or your family, are not improving, or are lasting longer than two weeks, we recommend seeking help. There are effective and well-researched treatment options available to treat mental illness and help a person recover. 

To learn more about mental health complications in pregnancy or postpartum, visit Postpartum Support International."

Dr. Hoffman (a.k.a. Mel) has dedicated her career to promoting maternal and child health and wellness. She earned a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree from the University of Kansas and is certified as a Perinatal Mental Health provider. Through more than 17 years of volunteer work for PSI KS, she has provided peer support to help-seekers across the state and currently serves as the state lead for Kansas PSI coordinators. Dr. Hoffman founded Build Your Village, a perinatal mental health peer support network in Douglas County, Kansas, in 2007.

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