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Healthcare Providers and Your Perinatal Population: Your patients are at risk

Flowers and book cover of The Art of Holding in Therapy.

It has been reported that maternal suicide is the leading cause of death during pregnancy and the first year after birth. This is why the current shift in attention toward greater awareness to maternal mental health is urgently necessary and long overdue. We are just scratching the surface, and have far to go, but this momentum toward improved care and education can only be seen as positive energy in the right direction.

It has taken a long time and too many women have died.

Many of us in the field would agree that awareness is increasing and medical organizations are responding with attention to improved screening protocols, services, and resources. The advocacy movement has been wildly successful at shedding light in the dark corners of widespread misunderstanding across multiple disciplines. More research and powerful legislative initiatives are emerging. Universities and medical settings are beginning to identify and actualize the relevance of perinatal research and recommendations. Clinical trainings are expanding. Families are becoming informed and collectively speaking out of their own behalf with robust determination and strong social media support.

This is all good.

One of the problems with identifying and treating perinatal women in distress is that symptoms are hard to discern. This is true for the women, men, and families who suffer. And this is true for the healthcare providers who treat them. Symptoms overlap with normal, expected perinatal changes and do not always fit into discreet or identifiable categories. Unlike other medical conditions that might present themselves in a measurable fashion, perinatal distress is often subjective.

There are an infinite number of barriers that prevent her from asking for help in the first place and even if she DOES find the courage to ask for help, the outcome of that effort depends on many hard-to-define variables. Clearly, the outcome that follows a mother’s cry for help doesn’t always simply depend on the circumstances or obstacles. An accurate assessment can, indeed, be achieved despite the challenges listed here. Still, these examples, to name just a few, show what is likely to contribute to the overwhelming lack of clarity: