Over 400,000 women in the U.S. suffer from postpartum depression each year. Yet only an estimated 15 percent of those mothers receive treatment, and countless women who have suffered from PPD report feeling deeply alone in their struggles.
But the federal government is offering families a glimmer of hope for the future of maternal mental health in the U.S.
On Nov. 30, Rep. Katherine M. Clark (D-Mass.) announced that her maternal mental health legislation, the Bringing Postpartum Depression Out of the Shadows Act, passed in the House of Representatives. On Wednesday, it passed in the Senate.
The bill authorizes the Secretary of Health and Human Services to provide federal grants to states for the purpose of screening, assessing and treating PPD. The grants would allow states to create, improve or maintain programs around maternal mental health and help women who are pregnant or recently gave birth.
“As a mom of three boys, I know how rewarding, as well as how overwhelming and exhausting, a new baby can be,” Clark told The Huffington Post.
“Moms comprise fewer than a fifth of Congress, so it’s especially important for us to bring these perspectives into policymaking,” she added. “I introduced this bill because our moms need to know they matter ― that we, as a nation, value them and will fight for the health and success of their families.”
Clark said she was inspired to put forth this legislation after meeting with women who’ve experienced PPD and observing the work the Massachusetts Child Psychiatry Access Project has done to help mothers in her home state.
The program “helps doctors better understand the signs of maternal depression, and helps patients get the treatment they need,” the congresswoman explained. “The response they’ve had has been incredible, and so we’re taking that to a national level.”
The Bringing Postpartum Depression Out of the Shadows Act passed in the House and Senate as part of H.R. 34, the 21st Century Cures Act, which includes a section addressing treatment and screening for maternal depression. The legislation builds on state and local efforts toward helping women suffering from PPD and offers federal funding to train health care providers to screen and treat mothers.
Clark believes her maternal mental health legislation is an important part of the 21st Century Cures Act package, as the U.S. currently has no federal programs dedicated to addressing PPD.
“We need policies that treat mental health and physical health with equal importance,” the congresswoman told HuffPost. “When one in seven moms suffers from postpartum depression and only 15 percent get help, it’s clear our moms are underserved.”
Clark pointed to the positive effects of addressing parental mental health in families. “These are moms who suffer from the pain and isolation that come with postpartum depression, and they shouldn’t feel like they’re on their own,” she said. “We know that children do better in school and in social situations when their moms get the treatment they need for postpartum depression.”
Ultimately, she added, “Women’s health ― including reproductive and maternal health ― needs to be part of Congress’ long term strategy for the health and success of our families.”