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A BRIGHTER TOMORROW: Conversations during Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month

Missouri's maternal mortality report from 2017-2019 found most of maternal deaths were preventable through a variety of intervention methods.
Camylla Battani
Missouri's maternal mortality report from 2017-2019 found most of maternal deaths were preventable through a variety of intervention methods.

Several major life changes come with having a baby, and mental health can be one of them.

"It's not just all of the physical changes that happen, but the emotional changes that happen as well," said Megan Steen, the chief operating officer of Burrell Behavioral Health's central region.

Steen is a licensed clinical social worker with a background in perinatal mental health. The specialty focuses on mental health in the time period before, during and up to two years after pregnancy.

"Sometimes postpartum or even pregnancy may be the first time that a mother is experiencing mental health symptoms," Steen said.

Steen said postpartum depression and anxiety are the most common diagnoses that happen during the perinatal period.

“Mothers are regularly screened for gestational diabetes," she said. “Whereas perinatal anxiety and mood disorders are much more common, but screened much less often.”

Steen said mental health challenges during the perinatal period can affect more than the mother, impacting fathers or non-birthing parents as well.

"It's a significant change for families," she said. "You have a new child to take care of. There are so many other demanding things for your attention and time that the symptoms can become even more significant."

The stigma surrounding mental health issues, particularly during new parenthood, can make this time period even more challenging for families.

"The perceptions and ways in which society portrays this period of life has been a magical time," Steen said. "It's just not the experience for every person."

Steen said pregnancy in and of itself isn't even something that's been the focus of many clinical studies.

"It's unique and sometimes difficult to find out some of the health data that we need to know just because of the very nature of pregnancy itself," she said.

The lack of health research surrounding mothers and women in general goes far beyond pregnancy. A Harvard Medical School study found that as of 2019, women were still greatly underrepresented in clinical trials for leading diseases.

"Conversations like these are so important, just to raise awareness," Steen said.

For parents who are struggling, Steen said they're not alone. Finding a network of other parents or consulting their pediatricians is a good first step in receiving support.

If you or anyone you know is experiencing a crisis, call or text 9-8-8 to speak with a mental health professional.

KOMU 8 is a full-powered NBC affiliate operating as an independent commercial property. As such, KOMU 8 is the only major network affiliate in the United States that acts as a university-owned commercial television station utilizing its newsroom as a working lab for students.
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