Keeping New Mothers Emotionally Healthy

Steven D’Achille knows that his wife would have loved to see their daughter Adriana at age 3. Sadly, Adriana is growing up without her mother, who was lost to postpartum depression, when Adriana was just a few weeks old.

Steven started a foundation in his wife’s name to spread awareness of postpartum depression and expand access to treatment. He then teamed up with Allegheny Health Network (AHN). Together they have expanded AHN’s ability to screen and treat women for postpartum depression.

This foundation and collaboration are living proof that community support can help new mothers regain their emotional health and be there for their children.

Treating postpartum depression before it turns tragic

To raise awareness of postpartum depression, Steven created the Alexis Joy D’Achille Foundation for Postpartum Depression to:

  • Help women and their families spot warning signs
  • Provide resources to expand mental health care

In 2015, the Foundation awarded $100,000 to AHN. Now, AHN’s women’s behavioral health center is helping more women get treated for postpartum depression.  They have used this money to create an intensive, outpatient program for women suffering with depression, anxiety and mood disorders.

A psychiatrist explains

“Steven’s story inspired us to improve care for women with depression during pregnancy and after delivery,” said Sarah Homitsky, MD, psychiatrist and medical director of the women’s behavioral health center.

She explained that the center’s professional vision fits well with the goals of the Alexis Joy D’Achille Foundation. The first step is to improve the depression or mood disorder screening process.  Then women are identified and invited to come in for treatment. 

The program focuses on improving mother-baby attachment. Staff members:

  • Invite mothers to bring their babies, as well as other family members, to appointments
  • Talk to families about the broad-reaching impact of depression
  • Discuss the potential negative impact on a mom’s ability to relate to her child
  • Work with mothers to manage their stress, and improve  problem-solving and communication skills

“Women are particularly vulnerable to mood disorders during this time period because of changes to their bodies and daily routine,” said Dr. Homitsky.

“Sometimes crying or feeling sad can be part of typical changes that come after delivery, but if these emotions start to affect a mother’s ability to care for herself or her child or last longer than two weeks, she should talk to her doctor,” she said.

Identifying women in need of help

For the pilot program, the staff worked with OB-GYN offices, screening pregnant and postpartum patients there.  As a result, 260 patients have been referred to AHN for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, since the program began in July 2015.

The program is now expanding to:

  • Introduce dual screening for depression and bipolar disorder at all AHN associated OBGYN practices
  • Conduct comprehensive initial evaluations, developing treatment plans that incorporate therapy, medication as needed, and connect to community resources.

“Our goals are to effectively screen women for mood and anxiety disorders and connect them to the right treatment,” said Dr. Homitsky.

Mood disorders make bonding difficult

Depression and anxiety disorders can:

  • Negatively impact a mother’s ability to connect with her baby
  • Negatively impact infant development
  • Affect 15 to 20 percent of pregnant women, for up to a year after delivery
  • Respond to treatment

While it is impossible to predict who will develop it, women seem to be more likely to get postpartum depression if they have:

  • Personal or family history of depression or bipolar disorder
  • Recent stressful life events
  • Inadequate social support
  • Marital problems

If you are pregnant and have a history of depression, talk to your doctor about monitoring your symptoms during pregnancy and after delivery.

Learn more about depression