The statistics from the January issue of The American Journal of Perinatology captured my undivided attention. Of 15.7 million deliveries from 2010 to 2014, 11,497 women (0.07%) were readmitted for a primary psychiatric diagnosis within 60 days postpartum, which accounts for 40% of postpartum admissions.
Suicide is a leading cause of death for pregnant and postpartum women; according to JAMA, Psychiatry and mental health professionals have seen “an unprecedented surge” during the COVID pandemic.
Maternal mental health is a public health crisis that can have devastating results. Sommer Skye Stokes, a 21-year-old African American woman, lost her mother, Melanie Stokes, jumped out of a window three months after giving birth. She was a successful pharmaceutical, and her tragedy is still memorable after 20 years.
Cynthia Wachenheim, a successful Caucasian attorney, also jumped out of a window in Harlem with her baby strapped to her back because she thought she was a “bad” mother. Wachenheim died, but the baby miraculously lived, having suffered minor bruises.
Andrea Yates remains in a state mental hospital in Kerrville, Texas, for drowning her five children in a bathtub shortly after her newborn’s birth.
These tragedies placed maternal mental health on the center stage. Before them, patients who exhibited problems were frequently given written prescriptions without proper follow-up. Although it happened over a decade ago, I can still recall the countless number of hospitals I contacted long after my shift had officially ended, trying to find a bed for one of my pregnant patients. She needed an emergent admission for her newly diagnosed bipolar disorder.
Thankfully, most prenatal and postpartum records now contain depression screening, but there is still more work to be done. The effects of maternal mental health can be both brutal and devastating. As the daughter of a mother who once had schizophrenia, I have personally felt the emotional pain.
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