It’s the number one complication of pregnancy, affecting an estimated 10 to 15 percent of new mothers, according to a recently-released analysis by the CDC. But until El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, California opened its Maternal Outreach Mood Services Program this month, there wasn’t a single hospital program in Northern California devoted to diagnosis and treatment of perinatal mood disorders.
The hospital’s new regional program serving all of Northern California provides free assessment, and outpatient referral to community-based counseling and support services. It also offers a day treatment program, including group and individual counseling and evaluation by the program’s medical director, Dr. Nirmaljit Dhami.
The program was born of a response to growing concerns about the substantial unmet mental health needs affecting pregnant and postpartum women in the community. El Camino Hospital’s departments of Maternal Child Health and Behavioral Health Services convened a multi-disciplinary task force in November 2006 to look at the problem, and found not a single other hospital in Northern California had a program addressing this need. And even though a majority of obstetricians said they screen for postpartum depression, many said they need help identifying referral and treatment resources for their patients, with nearly two-thirds citing an insufficient number of psychiatrists with expertise in postpartum mood disorders.
“There’s a huge need for education about this problem–even in the physician community,” said Kris Peterson, MFT, Perinatal Mood Specialist. “Problems often are dismissed by family members, primary care physicians, and even obstetricians as ‘just baby blues.’ But while many new mothers may experience a short period of weepiness and worry, anything that lasts longer than about two weeks is more than baby blues. Postpartum depression is most easily treated when it is caught early and our program is designed to provide intensive, focused treatment to prevent the progression of symptoms.”
According to Dr. Dhami, many physicians are frustrated and reluctant to identify depression when they have few options for helping patients deal with it. “Unfortunately, untreated maternal depression and anxiety can cause significant problems for the babies involved, ranging from attachment disorders to cognitive and language delays, and emotional and behavioral problems in childhood and adolescence,” she said. “This is a health issue that has important long term implications.”
The confidential, therapy-based El Camino Hospital program starts with a free assessment and referral to a community provider or support group, if possible. If more intense support is needed, the hospital’s day treatment program is covered by most insurance plans through the mental health coverage. Outpatient moms and infants spend up to five hours a day in intensive individual and group therapy, treated separately from other behavioral health patients.
“For many women, this is the first time they have experienced any significant feelings of depression or anxiety,” Peterson said. “These moms simply don’t fit neatly into the rest of our patient base and treating them together with other patients isn’t a good solution, so we have tailored a program specifically for them.”
Although it can happen to any woman, regardless of prior history or demographics, there are several risk factors that increase vulnerability to mood disorders, including a personal or family history of depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder; marital and financial problems; major recent life changes such a move or job loss or change; inadequate social support; or fertility problems. Teen mothers appear to have an elevated risk, too.
“The good news is that it’s a very treatable condition with a high successful outcome rate,” Peterson said. “Our goal is to prevent progression.”
For more information or to schedule a complimentary consultation, call 650-988-7841. Details about Maternal Outreach Mood Services may also be viewed online at http://www.elcaminohospital.org/body.cfm?id=1444.
To learn more about El Camino Hospital and its services, visit the web site at www.elcaminohospital.org. For a physician referral, visit our web site or call the El Camino Health Line at 800-216-5556.