Former N.J. First Lady Continues to Spearhead State Postpartum Screening Policy

Source: NJ Spotlight
Depression is the most common disability in the nation, according to a report issued last week by the United States Preventative Services Task Force. But depression among pregnant women and new mothers is particularly worrisome, since it directly impacts both mother and baby, the group noted. With early diagnosis, appropriate treatment and follow-up care, mother and child can recover and thrive, it added.
The Garden State is far ahead of the curve. Thanks largely to a public campaign led by former first lady Mary Jo Codey, who experienced postpartum depression several times, the state launched a public awareness campaign – “Speak Up When You’re Down” –  when her husband, Sen. Richard Codey (D-Essex), served as acting governor.
A year later, New Jersey enacted the nation’s first statewide screening process, requiring doctors to discuss postpartum depression with their pregnant patients and also to screen new mothers for the disease before they leave the hospital and at the baby’s first few check-up visits. The state now maintains a trove of information online  and a 24-hour hotline (1-800-328-3838) for families in crisis.
Thanks to the New Jersey’s aggressive screening protocol — which health officials said reached 93 percent of mothers with hospital births during 2014 — hundreds of thousands of women have been checked for the disease. The Family Health hotline has received more than 13,000 calls since it started in 2005, state officials said.
Carolyn Beauchamp, president and CEO of the Mental Health Association in New Jersey, praised the Codeys and other state officials for their early initiative to address postpartum depression. “Nobody was really thinking about this at the time,” she said, adding that her organization would like to see all patients receive basic screening for depression as part of their regular physical check up. “We need to integrate this into physical care in a very ongoing way.”
Beauchamp and other mental-health advocates also point out that a diagnosis doesn’t guarantee treatment. In a 2014 study, MHANJ found that nearly half of the state’s licensed psychiatrists were not taking new patients. The result, Beauchamp said, is that most women end up going to their primary-care doctor who prescribes an antidepressant; while this can help, she said a combination of pharmaceutical treatment and counseling often works best. “We really do have to have options,” she said. “It’s very scary for new moms.”
While as many as eight in 10 woman experience some kind of “baby blues” in the days and weeks after giving birth, experts believe the far more severe postpartum depression affects one in seven new mothers. Symptoms include severe mood swings, appetite changes, insomnia, serious fatigue, excessive crying, intense anger and irritability, panic attacks, lack of concentration, feelings of worthlessness, shame or guilt, even thoughts of harming your baby or yourself, according to the Mayo Clinic. While the exact causes are not known, the disease seems to be triggered by a mix of hormonal changes and enormous stress.

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