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Perinatal Mental Health: Challenges and Hope for Mothers

When so many mothers have struggled with postpartum depression and anxiety, why hasn't perinatal mental health gotten the attention it deserves?

According to information from Utah Department of Health and Human Services, 1 in 7 postpartum Utah mothers report symptoms of perinatal mental health challenges. The national prevalence is 12.5%, as reported by the National Institutes of Health.  Experts at University of Utah Health think the numbers are even higher.

Recognizing the need for increased care

As a certified nurse midwife, Gwen Latendresse, PhD, CNM, FACNM, FAAN, associate dean for academic programs at the University of Utah College of Nursing, saw early on in her career that maternal mental health was not receiving the attention it deserved. She recognized that early and simple interventions made a huge impact. But resources were hard to find, and long wait times for mental health professionals were problematic. She vowed to give mothers a voice.

Some of the challenges identified by Latendresse include a cultural bias of the miracle of birth, our tendency to suffer in silence, and a genuine lack of awareness that it’s a real condition.

Awareness of and access to perinatal mental health care – especially problematic in rural populations - contributes to the problem. Many moms find it impossible to attend to their own care. Rural moms in particular are further challenged by a shortage of rural mental health providers.

In a feature story published by University of Utah Health titled “For the Love of Mothers”, Utah mothers describe debilitating symptoms and complex emotions brought on by this frequently silenced condition, courtesy of the Emily Effect Foundation’s The Letters of Light.


Learn how U of U Health researchers, a team of community partners, and Utah mothers across the state are working together to build new programs that address postpartum mental health disorders.

Read the feature story

What happens when new moms are admitted to the hospital?

Huntsman Mental Health Institute is supporting inpatient clients who have co-occurring postpartum anxiety or depression by recognizing the need for family bonding. Hales, who experienced postpartum anxiety herself, leads the team of social workers and a clinical nurse educator who support postpartum patients in their care. By providing increased access to a family consult room for moms and babies to bond and feed, rocking chairs, protected sleep for moms, and lactation pumps and storage for breast milk, patients experience more positive outcomes.

For patients experiencing treatment-resistant depression, or depression that hasn’t improved with medication or psychotherapy, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) are effective and safe treatment options providing significant relief.

How are we supporting parents?

Together with colleagues from across the state, passionate experts including Latendresse, Jamie Hales, LCSW, clinical manager at Huntsman Mental Health Institute and board co-chair for Postpartum Support International Utah (PSI Utah), and Teresa Lopez, LCSW, director of behavioral health integration at Huntsman Mental Health Institute have worked tirelessly to address the disparities and to create safety nets for the more than 14% of postpartum moms and 10% of postpartum dads who suffer.  They strive to educate, treat and proactively address critical aspects of postpartum anxiety and depression.

Latendresse played an integral role in designing and implementing a perinatal mental health screening tool, utilized routinely by University of Utah Health providers. At the first OB appointment, and throughout the pregnancy, depression and anxiety screenings help to identify moms who need mental health care. Through MyChart and EPIC, alerts pop up for providers across the system when a patient screens positive for warning signs and symptoms. From there, providers can proactively implement an essential toolkit for parents.

One such tool, is YoMingo. This free web-based access point is empowering moms and dads alike. Self-directed modules provide patients with well-vetted accurate information and education on a wide variety of topics, including prenatal care, nutrition, newborn care, maternal mental wellness, perinatal depression, and prevention. The platform offers parents an interactive discussion board and live video sessions so women can interact with other women.

As reported in the feature article, “while postpartum recovery looks different for every mother, each deserves a community that they can rely on, exactly where and when they need it.”

Telehealth, videoconferencing, behavioral health integration within women’s health, virtual support groups and initiatives such as SB133 modifying Medicaid coverage to cover a full year postpartum, are aimed at systematically addressing gaps in mental health care for perinatal women.

University of Utah Health recently announced the Utah Pregnancy After Loss Program. The program brings together physicians, nurses, mental health professionals and peer support specialists to provide families a compassionate pathway to healing after pregnancy loss, newborn death, or significantly complicated pregnancies. 

Experts from across the state of Utah continue to drive research, education and patient care in ways that help mothers and support the entire family.