New recommendations for expanded mental health care access could impact up to 15% of new moms.
A government task force is recommending that primary care providers provide counseling services, or referrals to counselors, to all pregnant and postpartum women who are at high risk of developing depression. The move could increase access to counseling for these women, since insurance providers will now be required to cover counseling for pregnant and postpartum women.
The recommendation from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force could affect up to 15% of new moms. People at high risk of developing depression before or after giving birth include young moms, low-income women, and women with a past history of depression. For these people, early screening and intervention via counseling can be very effective.
“I am very happy to see anything related to prevention, whether it’s mental health generally or perinatal depression specifically. If we can prevent problems from occurring, not only do we do a great service to humans, but [the health care system] saves a great deal of money,” Jeff Temple, a University of Texas psychologist in the department of obstetrics and gynecology, told Time.
However, Temple added that there are still barriers to access to mental health care, especially for at-risk women. These include an already understaffed and overburdened mental health system.
“If we need to see 15% of perinatal women, there’s absolutely no way that we have the ability to do that. We need to put more money and effort into training more psychologists and counselors,” he said.
Ideally, doctors who are taking care of women during pregnancy would integrate mental health services and counseling into their practices, said Temple.
“If these women are screened and they’re recommended to someone [for counseling] and it’s kind of a cold handoff, very few will follow up with it. But if one implication of this is that OB/GYN departments start to incorporate counselors and psychologists within their services, then we’ll see a huge benefit. If we did that, I am 100% positive we would see declines in perinatal depression.”
Temple believes this will happen in the future, as the country grows more aware about the importance of mental health.
“I think we’re starting to understand the importance of mental health as a society, and the importance of prevention,” he said. “The future is definitely going to be psychologists within primary care departments.”
American Counseling Association president Simone Lambert said that focusing on mothers’ mental health could improve outcomes for women and babies. Being proactive is the best way to do that, Lambert said.
“The benefits of increased maternal and infant wellness and decreased stigma to seek mental health assistance would likely lead to less of a toll on our healthcare system than when mental health concerns are unaddressed.”