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Beyond "Baby Blues": Allegheny Health Network and Alexis Joy Foundation partner to prevent and treat postpartum depression

Beautiful and vivacious, blessed with a loving family and successful career, Alexis Joy D’Achille was known for her quick sense of humor and ability to put others at ease. She and her husband, Steven, happily welcomed their baby girl, Adriana, in August 2013. Six weeks later, overwhelmed by symptoms of postpartum depression that she couldn’t control, she took her own life.

In the weeks following, Steven decided to make it his mission to do what he could to prevent such tragedies from happening again, and to create a legacy for Adriana to carry on in her mother’s name.

The Alexis Joy D’Achille Foundation for Postpartum Depression was created to raise awareness of postpartum depression, to help women and their families spot warning signs, and support mental healthcare providers in Pittsburgh and beyond.

In 2015, the foundation awarded $100,000 to Allegheny Health Network (AHN) to explore new ways to boost awareness of postpartum depression, make it easier for women to seek treatment, and examine emerging models of care.

"We spent a lot of time trying to determine the best way to use the money that we raised, and Highmark and Allegheny Health Network brought just the sort of energy and focus we need to fulfill our mission," Steven D’Achille said. A group known as "Alexis’s Army" meets weekly to brainstorm and discuss new models for treating postpartum depression.

Since starting to work with the Alexis Joy Foundation in early 2015, AHN has distributed more than 5,000 copies of a brochure with Alexis’s story, information about signs of postpartum depression, and resources for treatment.

AHN is also piloting a telemedicine program to immediately assess women identified by their obstetrician or other doctor as having symptoms of postpartum depression. Women identified are immediately seen in their doctors’ offices via a video-conferencing program by a psychologist. They are then referred for treatment, which can include medication, outpatient, or inpatient care.

In the future, AHN and Alexis’s Army plan to expand the telemedicine triage to pediatricians’ offices and develop treatment options that allow mothers to continue to bond with their babies.

Postpartum depression is a treatable medical illness that affects about 15 to 20 percent of women after giving birth. Symptoms—which can include confusion, sadness, hopelessness, and guilt—may start shortly after delivery and continue for weeks or months. Postpartum depression can be hard to spot, because symptoms are similar to the "baby blues,” a short-lived state that affects up to 70 percent of new mothers. Only 15 percent of all women with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, including postpartum depression, ever receive professional treatment.

"We honor Alexis by using her story to make people more aware of postpartum depression and help women access the right treatment,” Steven said. “Alexis’ legacy will be one that makes a difference in the lives of countless women in search of hope and support."