Elizabeth O'Brien, LPC
PSI GA Chapter President
PSI State Coordinator
Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition of Georgia
The dark moments surfaced first when Amy was pregnant with her daughter, then again years later while pregnant with her son.
"There were days when I felt completely hopeless and nervous and cried for no reason," she said.
For years, Amy accepted the dark mood as her new normal. Then, when her son was 2, Amy was vacationing in Florida and stepped out on the balcony of their 19th-story hotel room and a thought so disturbing popped in her head that she rushed back inside. The thought: "If you jump, it probably won't even hurt because there is sand down there."
As horrible as that was, it isn't all that unusual. Amy was experiencing postpartum depression, considered the most common complication of childbirth. It is so common in Georgia, where Amy lives, that we formed a Georgia chapter of Postpartum Support International. I'd like to share why we took that step, what we hope to achieve, and lessons learned from the process.
According to the American Psychological Association, in the United States, one in seven new mothers reports suffering from some type of perinatal mood disorder, which, if not properly treated, can have a long-term negative impact on the health of the entire family. In Georgia alone, yearly more than 30,000 pregnant and postpartum women are likely to experience a perinatal mood disorder, according to Mental Health America of Georgia, Instead of enjoying one of the happiest times of life, these new moms (and dads) feel worthless, uninterested, depressed, suicidal, or worse.
Consequently, women often feel alone in their suffering, believing the myth that motherhood and maternity leave should be the best times of their lives. First-time parents often have no experience with which to compare their new roles, creating a distorted perception of parenthood.
The Georgia chapter of Postpartum Support International (PSI Georgia www.psiga.org) was established in the spring of 2017 with the mission to promote awareness, prevention, and treatment of maternal mental health issues related to childbearing. PSI Georgia a nonprofit afflicted with the larger well established larger non-profit Postpartum Support International, is taking the lead in addressing maternal mental health and aims to build bridges of support within our state. We applied for and received a AMCHP Replication grant so that, with help from our stakeholders, PSI Georgia could implement MotherWoman's community readiness assessment that tried to understand communities perception of perinatal mental health and the leadership around this topic. We did that through surveying, hosting stakeholder working meetings in three locations, and developing the framework of a statewide strategic plan.
Over the course of a two-month stakeholder input process, six key objectives were identified that will help the chapter meet its mission to promote awareness, prevention, and treatment of maternal mental health issues related to childbearing in Georgia:
- Decrease the stigma of perinatal mental health issues by promoting awareness across the state of Georgia.
- Improve access to services provided to women, children, and families affected by perinatal mental health issues.
- Increase the number of trained professionals across the state who work to prevent, screen for, and treat perinatal mental health conditions.
- Create a comprehensive statewide universal screening system for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.
- Build an informed, collaborative, and representative statewide network of partners who work together to address perinatal mental health.
- Identify, secure, and leverage sustainable resources in support of perinatal mental health services across Georgia.
As a new organization in Georgia, we anticipated some challenges and reluctance in engaging stakeholders. What we failed to realize was the difficulty in simply identifying potential stakeholders outside of metro Atlanta. Additionally, we should have held a series of partnership-building meetings with stakeholders before asking them to participate in the survey and attend our meetings.
We rushed to meet the time requirements of the grant but are proud of the 55 attendees for our three professionally facilitated meetings. Through data collection from the surveys, we now have a place to begin the necessary conversations with our stakeholders and community. By hosting the in-person sessions, we began to establish partnerships and hear the needs and barriers for improving maternal mental health in Georgia and to prioritize accordingly.
We put in place several efforts to sustain this project. For example, our board is more involved and collaborating with other organization across the state to ensure our name and mission become more widely known. We plan to continue using the facilitated conversation model to obtain input from stakeholders throughout Georgia as we refine our strategy and begin executing on our strategic priorities. Also, we are participating in local fundraising efforts as well as applying for national grant opportunities to increase our fiscal ability to share this strategic plan formally and implement the next steps to get this work done.
Lastly, we are expanding our programming efforts to address the key concepts that resulted from the implementation of this project. Here in Georgia we recognize we are committed to improving conditions for pregnant and postpartum women for the long haul. This grant has allowed us the opportunity to have a great start as we push the needle in perinatal mental health.