This post is the first installment in a new blog series where we pose five questions on issues related to maternal and infant care for vulnerable populations to health professionals, community advocates, mothers and other important voices. Emily Hershenson, an independently licensed clinical social worker who is in private practice as a psychotherapist in Dupont Circle in Washington, DC, shares thoughts on maternal mental health.
1. How did you join the health care field and what inspired you to focus on mental health and psychoanalysis?
I went to graduate school for social work after forays into two very different fields: politics and the performing arts. I loved working in both, but I knew I wanted to go to social work school and specifically become a psychotherapist because of my own life experiences. I think there are usually personal reasons we choose the work we do; that certainly is the case for me. But psychotherapy is such a hopeful endeavor. The therapist and patient work together to gain a greater understanding of the patient’s life with the goal of relieving suffering and making life ultimately more meaningful. It can be so transformative. It’s a privilege to do the work I do.
2. What do you think are the major maternal mental health concerns that are affecting women of color and low-income women?
I think the biggest maternal mental health concern can be summed up with one phrase: access to care. As an example, there’s a higher incidence of Postpartum Depression (PPD) among low-income and minority women. Often, it’s not even diagnosed among these women. If it is correctly diagnosed, a realistic treatment plan cannot often be implemented. Why? Because of access to care. If you’ve got two kids at home already, a newborn and you’ve been diagnosed with PPD, when are you going to see a psychotherapist weekly? Who is going to watch your kids? How are you going to get to the therapist’s office? How are you going to pay your co-pay? (Or, a more accurate question: how can you find a therapist with availability who also accepts your insurance?)
Further complicating the situation are language and cultural barriers to care. In many communities, mothers feel ostracized if they’re having a tough time after the baby arrives. Regrettably, there is still such stigma around mental health challenges, especially for new mothers. Many moms who would benefit from PPD treatment don’t even know there is help out there. They may not even have a name for what they’re experiencing.
3. What are some possible solutions that can help resolve these issues?
There are no easy solutions, of course. I think JB-LF is doing great work. It’s going be the efforts of organizations that are going to make a difference–whether through direct funding, community partnerships, or campaigns raising awareness about the issues. I think the more maternal mental health is discussed openly, the less shame moms will feel in reaching out for help.
I had very difficult postpartum experiences after each of my children was born. It was hard, but I was relieved when I met other moms who had similarly tough times. I was lucky. I had the resources and fantastic support to get the help I needed. I think if more people are willing to open up and share their stories, it can be powerful and de-stigmatizing.
4. What are some ways that women can handle or deal with postpartum depression at home?
If you suspect you have PPD or are experiencing any changes in your mood, talk to your doctor or RN right away. Ask for their help in getting help. It can be too overwhelming to have to coordinate treatment on your own. If you can, go walk with your baby in a carrier or a stroller; breathe some fresh air. Eat well. Snack on peanut butter, cheese, apple slices. Drink lots of water. Keep in contact with friends and family. Don’t isolate yourself. Remember that you’re not alone.
5. What are some resources, outside of hospitals, that low-income women can utilize that can provide support?
Often times, health care providers tell moms that they’re not alone and that the mental health challenges they are facing are not their fault and that, with help, they can be well again. This may seem like an empty sentiment if you’re someone without access to resources.
Everyone should know about Postpartum Support International. It’s a very important resource for postpartum mothers and their families: https://www.postpartum.net/. The organization is dedicated to helping women suffering from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PPD is the most common one) and they offer reliable support and information for moms and families (and professionals too). They have a help line–which is not a crisis line–as well: 1-800-944-4473. On their website, you can find everything from online support meetings and local resources. Every new mom should visit their website at least once. They are doing important work.
JENNIFER BUSH-LAWSON FOUNDATION ANNOUNCES $25K AWARD TO CHILDREN’S NATIONAL
Inaugural Prize for Prenatal Innovation Award Will Support Research Project to Improve Mental Health in Pregnancy for Low-Income Black Women in Washington, DC
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
ARLINGTON, VA, SEPT. 4, 2019 – The Jennifer Bush-Lawson Foundation (JB-LF) is pleased to announce Children’s National as the winner of the inaugural Prize for Prenatal Innovation, which comes with an award of $25,000. The check will be awarded to Dr. Catherine Limperopoulos by JB-LF Founder Neal Lawson and Executive Director Jennifer Myers on Friday, Sept. 6 at 12pm at Children’s National, located at 111 Michigan Ave. NW. The check awarding event, in the hospital’s Costco Wholesale Atrium, is open to press; please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.
JB-LF launched the Prize to uncover and support forward-thinking solutions that have the potential to improve access to prenatal care for disadvantaged women in the greater Washington, DC region. This inaugural award will support a citywide research project in Washington, DC, led by Dr. Limperopoulos to develop and implement strategies that reduce obstacles to screening for stress, depression, and anxiety in pregnancy and to provide necessary follow-up resources tailored for low-income black perinatal women.
Stress, depression, and anxiety are the most common complications of pregnancy, affecting up to 25% of women in the prenatal period and/or first postpartum year. For low-income black women, stark disparities cause an even greater burden, with 40% experiencing maternal distress.
The funds provided by JB-LF to Children’s National will specifically underwrite the work of the study’s Stakeholder Engagement Core (SEC), chaired by Robyn Russell and Patricia Quinn, fellows of the DC-Primary Care Association. The SEC will engage black pregnant women, community advocates and clinicians, and representatives from DC Health to adapt and refine proposed interventions. They will also monitor enrollment and follow-up, and disseminate local implementation of the study’s findings. The SEC’s role will ensure community voices strongly inform the research project’s final structure.
“Children’s National is honored to receive the inaugural Jennifer Bush-Lawson Prize for Prenatal Innovation. As a scientist focused on the developing brain, I see how unhealthy environments and maternal stress affect a child’s brain development, even before birth. By connecting with pregnant mothers and empowering them with tools to reduce their own stress and anxiety, we can help their babies have the best possible start to life. We are deeply grateful to the Jennifer Bush-Lawson Foundation for partnering with us to create a citywide network that is strongly informed by community voices,” said Catherine Limperopoulos, PhD, Director and Principal Investigator of the Advanced Pediatric Brain Imaging Research Laboratory, the Center for the Developing Brain; Vice-Chair of Research in Radiology and Co-Director of Research in Newborn Medicine.
“We launched the Prize for Prenatal Innovation because too many vulnerable women don’t receive the type and level of care they need during pregnancy, and we wanted to make a difference. We’re incredibly pleased to partner with Children’s National to support this citywide research project, which could help many women and families now and in years to come,” said Neal Lawson, founder and chair of the Jennifer Bush-Lawson Foundation.
About the Jennifer Bush-Lawson Foundation
Established in honor of Jenn Lawson, who lost her life in 2014, the Jennifer Bush-Lawson Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, serves economically vulnerable mothers and infants by working to increase access to high-quality maternal and infant care and support. Jennifer was a loving, dedicated mother of three, driven to advocacy after receiving high-quality care during her own complicated pregnancies. JB-LF seeks to embody her generous spirit by giving all mothers and newborns the means to thrive. More information is available at www.jb-lf.org and on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
About Children’s National
Children’s National Health System, based in Washington, D.C., has served the nation’s children since 1870. Children’s National is the nation’s No. 6 pediatric hospital and, for the third straight year, is ranked No. 1 in newborn care, as well as ranked in all specialties evaluated by U.S. News & World Report. It has been designated two times as a Magnet® hospital, a designation given to hospitals that demonstrate the highest standards of nursing and patient care delivery. This pediatric academic health system offers expert care through a convenient, community-based primary care network and specialty outpatient centers in the D.C. Metropolitan area, including the Maryland suburbs and Northern Virginia. Home to the Children’s Research Institute and the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation, Children’s National is the seventh-highest NIH-funded children’s hospital in the nation. Children’s National is recognized for its expertise and innovation in pediatric care and as a strong voice for children through advocacy at the local, regional and national levels. For more information, follow us on Facebook and Twitter.