For the first time this past January, a government-appointed health panel recommended screening for mental illness both during and after pregnancy. The new recommendation is based on recent evidence that contradicts traditional views of postpartum depression, suggesting that women can suffer from a range of mental health related issues throughout their pregnancy.
Large Prevalence of Mental Illness during and after Pregnancy
This recent call to action to encourage states to put programs into place that would provide mental health resources to pregnant women is perhaps a reaction to findings that show this is a much larger problem than previously thought. Although some cases are mild and don’t require treatment, new studies estimate that about 1 in 5 women will experience depression, anxiety, OCD, bipolar disorder or other mental illnesses in the year following childbirth.
How Poor Mental Health Affects Mother and Baby
Not only does a mother’s untreated mental illness affect her wellbeing and quality of life, but it can also have adverse effects on her child. Even before giving birth, evidence suggests that many pregnant women begin experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression, causing them to take poorer care of their prenatal health. This, in turn, affects their child’s development before he or she even enters the world. Then, after childbirth, a mother’s continued mental illness can cause behavioral problems and emotional instability later in life.
What’s Being Done?
Currently, New Jersey is the only state that requires screening for mental illness during pregnancy, but other states, including Illinois, Texas and Virginia have passed laws encouraging this screening. Although it may take some time before more states follow suit and make screening mandatory, the recent attention this serious concern has been receiving is a step in the right direction.