Raising Awareness for New Mothers Facing Mental Illness

By Latoya Joyner, Assemblywoman for the 77th Assembly District

The surprise and wonder of child birth and caring for a newborn is a gift that many New Yorkers cherish to the fullest. For some new mothers or soon-to-be mothers, the feeling and symptoms of maternal depression are a reality that can be scary, hard to talk about and have a lasting impact on their children.

Bringing attention to this widespread, yet unfamiliar public health issue, is an important step for families. In the summer and fall of 2015, there were numerous cases in the Bronx and New York City, where the early stages of motherhood sadly led to fatal incidents of postpartum depression. It is near and dear to my heart, having known of someone affected in the South Bronx, which is why I passed a resolution in the New York State Assembly that proclaims May as Maternal Depression Awareness Month – an important step that will bring this mental wellness topic front-and-center for all New Yorkers.

While there are treatments available and help hotlines for mothers and families, approximately 10-20% of new mothers and expectant mothers in New York suffer from depression when ushering a new child into this world. Collectively, maternal depression envelopes the feelings and emotions that women face when pregnant and up to one year following birth. In New York City, there were more than 120,000 new births in 2013. For Bronxites, approximately 20,153 new births were reported in 2012. Maternal depression and its symptoms impact a lot of mothers in our community in the Bronx and across New York City.

Locally, I am grateful for the major push forward in New York. New York City First Lady Chirlane McCray’s initiative to universally screen and treat all pregnant and new mothers for maternal depression at hospitals in the New York City Health + Hospitals network and Maimonides Medical Center within the next two years will be very helpful. Also, thanks to guidance from Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Department of Financial Services, health insurers in New York State are now required to provide health insurance coverage for maternal depression screenings. For new mothers that suffer from depression following pregnancy, it makes sense to have a holistic approach in our great city and state to help our mothers to get in front of this all-important public health issue and women’s health issue.

Knowing that there is help and that maternal depression is common will help mothers understand that there isn’t something wrong with them. But for those mothers that deliver their babies in other hospitals or hospital systems, there is a need for additional information gathering and publicity around this topic, which is why I have also drafted legislation to add additional funding to this important health issue that will raise the bar of understanding for mothers feeling victim to the side effects of depression, and not knowing where to turn. Affording access to essential informational resources can help mothers that may be suffering.

But even worse, maternal depression can have a domino effect on the development of children. Numerous studies from the World Health Organization and the National Center for Children and Poverty highlight the impacts of maternal depression and its overwhelming effect on early childhood development and the school readiness of young children. For low-income families, the barriers are even higher when it comes to access to appropriate prenatal and postpartum health options. Inability to garner appropriate nutrition in the early stages of life can result in low educational attainment, child development and reduced economic productivity, according to available research. Being able to level the playing field for mothers can result in equal development for our children – regardless of where they live or where they are from.

Starting to talk about maternal depression during and following pregnancy with family members and medical professionals can help us as a society eliminate the stigma associated with the disorder and its harmful symptoms. This May, let us all have a discussion on this important topic and support our strong New York mothers as they care for our future leaders.