Councilmember’s Corner: Addressing maternal mental health disorders 

Councilmember Brandon Todd meets with Petworth Moms In 2016.

by Brandon Todd

Last week, the District hosted elected officials, health policymakers and practitioners, and advocates from across the country at Mayor Bowser’s Maternal and Infant Health Summit. Together we explored strategies to improve perinatal health and address disparities in birth outcomes. With increased awareness of the need for more comprehensive maternal and infant healthcare, the District is seeking new ways to improve care for mothers and their newborn children.

One significant but often overlooked component of maternal and infant well-being is mental health. According to the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, at least 20% of mothers suffer from pregnant and postpartum mood and anxiety disorders.

After studying the problem more closely, I knew something had to be done. I am proud to report that legislation I introduced in 2017 to improve maternal mental healthcare has recently become official law in the District of Columbia.

The Maternal Mental Health Task Force Act of 2017 establishes a Task Force that will study maternal mental healthcare, make comprehensive policy recommendations to improve maternal mental healthcare, and report its findings to the Mayor and Council. The Task Force, comprised of licensed medical professionals and DC Government health policymakers, is charged with studying vulnerable populations and risk factors, barriers to care, evidence-based and emerging medical treatments, non-medical interventions such as public education campaigns and social support services, and maternal mental health best practices across the nation.

In the coming months, the Task Force will submit recommendations for legislation, policy initiatives, and funding requirements to address maternal mental health needs in the District.

Maternal mental disorders are treatable, and effective interventions can be delivered by well-trained, non-specialist health providers. A renewed effort and innovative ideas are needed to meet our obligations to families. I look forward to receiving the Task Force’s recommendations and using them as a foundation to design a targeted and coordinated policy response to move the needle on the prevalence of maternal mental health disorders.

While one in five women suffer from a maternal mental health disorder, only 50% of all mothers are identified. This status quo cannot be accepted. By convening the District’s foremost medical and policy experts, we can identify practical steps to provide mothers the support they need and give their children the bright future they deserve.

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