Why did your organization become a member of The Anti-Stigma Coalition?
One of our primary values as an organization is to connect with professionals who share a commitment to helping families in our community and to support the larger community through advocacy, education, and increased access to care for all. Joining a network of other organizations who hold this value helps us help the greater community. We believe that postpartum mental health concerns are very common and very treatable, and no parent should suffer in silence simply because of stigma or a lack of resources. We are committed to helping families access the care they need, without fear of stigma or discrimination. We advocate for equity, inclusion, and access to care for all members of our community and work to remove barriers to mental health services.
How are moms experiencing postpartum depression impacted by stigma?
Stigma can greatly impact moms who are experiencing Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADS). Moms are often given well-intentioned but incorrect messages by family, friends, and medical professionals that contribute to their hesitation in seeking help. They might have their concerns dismissed as “just baby blues,” that this should be the happiest time of their lives, that maternity leave is like a vacation, that they will feel instantly bonded with their baby, and several other myths that are perpetuated in motherhood and parenthood. Moms might hold a lot of shame if they have negative thoughts or feelings about being a mom or about their baby. In some cases, moms have intrusive thoughts about harm coming to the baby. They might feel a lot of shame or fear about this and not tell anyone out of fear of hospitalization or CPS involvement.
Social media can play both a positive and a negative role in maintaining stigma. Sometimes mothers compare themselves to others on social media and feel shame if they are not meeting some perceived standard. On the other hand, many use their social media presence as a platform to share helpful information about PMADs and perhaps their own stories of hope and recovery.
There are many systemic barriers to seeking care as well. Financial barriers or difficulty in accessing healthcare coverage. Harmful stereotypes based in systemic racism can also impact mothers of color and prevent access to care. These stereotypes can result in medical harm or neglect, and professionals not effectively screening for PMADS. In our region, the lack of culturally diverse models of care and culturally and racially diverse mental health providers can also be a barrier to care.
What is your organization doing to address stigma and enhance mental wellness in the community?
We work to reduce barriers to accessing quality postpartum mental health care by coordinating and maintaining a network of mental health professionals that have specific training and experience treating postpartum mental health concerns. By ensuring that our network members have this specialized training, we avoid harm to parents who might be presenting with symptoms that could be missed or misinterpreted by therapists without the PMAD specialty. We continue to recruit new therapists for our network and are working on bringing additional training opportunities to WNY. PMAD trained therapists reduce stigma by normalizing the experience and helping individuals understand how common it is to experience a postpartum mental health concern.
We have also conducted a Community Needs Assessment to identify gaps in care and guide us in further efforts to close them. We also participate in education and outreach in our community to promote awareness about postpartum mental health.