July 20, 2022

By Courtney Wise

Good morning, MindSite News readers. Today we look at a program in Pittsburgh designed to support Black parents and their mental health struggles through pregnancy and beyond. Latina writer Erika L. Sanchez, who has struggled with mental health, reveals her role model was Lisa Simpson. Most New Jersey parents support depression screening at school. Plus, economic stress may strengthen your marriage.

Working to alleviate postpartum depression in Pittsburgh

Credit: Twitter

The most common pregnancy complication is a mood disorder, according to the digital publication PublicSource. Depression and other mood disorders affect 20 percent of people who give birth and nearly 40 percent of Blacks who give birth – the result, according to the Maternal Mental Health Leadership Alliance, of systemic racism and its consequences. Left untreated, it can lead to adverse outcomes for parents and their babies – both after birth and later in life. To address these disparities for Black families, an initiative called Moving Beyond Depression (MBD) has served the Pittsburgh area since 2019. 

Created in Cincinnati in 2002, MBD is sponsored in Pittsburgh by Healthy Start, an organization aimed at reducing poor birth outcomes and maternal and infant mortality among Black families. Program officials told PublicSource that parents enrolled in MBD receive 15 in-home or telehealth therapy sessions to treat depression and anxiety by helping clients identify and change thought patterns, triggers and behaviors common with mood disorders. It’s available to new moms from pre-pregnancy through 18 months postpartum. Best of all, it’s free.

“Motherhood is a period of time where just leaving the house, packing a diaper bag is a lot,” said Courtney Utz, director of maternal infant mental health at West Penn Hospital’s Alexis Joy D’Achille Center for Perinatal Mental Health. “It’s like inviting a friend over a little bit, which I think is what motherhood should be. It should be the village; it should be people coming in to provide care.”

“Crying in the Bathroom” reveals mental struggle amidst public success

Credit: Twitter

Not long after Erika L. Sánchez’s novel I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter was named a finalist for the National Book Award, making her professional life a resounding success, she found herself grappling with her mental health. “I always thought that once everything that I wanted came true, then I would be fine,” she shared on NPR’s It’s Been A Minute. “I would be happy. I would be successful. I would be living the life that I wanted. And, I mean, I was for a while – until a lot of things happened all at once and my mental health really plummeted.”

She’d had mental health struggles before, but this time was different. Now she had to manage a change to her mental health medication and deal with the breakdown of a romantic relationship while drowning in work and trying to maintain her image as a Mexican American role model. She was completely overwhelmed. “I was struggling in such a deep and profound way that I considered suicide many times,” Sánchez said. “I didn’t know what I was going to do, how I was going to get out of it.”

In the book, she tells readers how she survived – with lots of help but also by being wildly honest about her “big feelings” in her life and on the page. Now that she’s back to stability, she’s clear that although the books she writes have to end, her mental health journey will not. “I think it’s quite messy, still, in some ways.” she told NPR. “As much as I am fulfilled and happy in my life, I still have to grapple with my mental illness. It doesn’t go away.”

Most New Jersey parents support in-school depression screenings

Credit: Shutterstock

Three-quarters of of parents of middle and high school students in New Jersey are in favor of their children being screened at school for depression, according to a research brief from Rutgers University. The support is based on their worries for their children: About half of all parents expressed concern about their kids’ risk of depression and 42% of Hispanic parents, 36% Black parents and 28% of white parents say they’re worried about the risk of their children attempting suicide. Data comes from responses to a statewide survey aimed at gauging parents’ feelings about a new state law that will fund depression screening programs in schools.

Parents want to know if their children are at risk, but they also worry that their children might think a positive screening would mean “something is wrong with them,” and are concerned that students might be overprescribed antidepressants and that the screenings themselves might cost schools too much in money and time.

Mental health response teams not answering as many calls in NYC as expected

Credit: Twitter

A New York City program that aims to send mental health teams instead of police to respond to people in mental health crisis is falling far short of its goals and has come under fire from mental health advocates, the digital news site The City reported. Launched by former NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and slated for expansion by his successor, Eric Adams, the program known as B-HEARDBehavioral Health Emergency Assistance Response Division – was supposed to handle 50 percent of mental health calls to 911 once it was up and running. But The City’s investigation found that the portion of calls handled by B-HEARD in its areas of operation has actually been dropping since the effort started in 2021 – from 20% of calls that June to just 16% in the first quarter of 2022.

Critics of the program say they aren’t surprised. “I find it horrifying,” said Ruth Lowenkron, director of the Disability Rights Program at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. “They’re definitely doing less well than they were doing before and it’s extraordinary. And nobody seems to be alarmed about it.” She also criticized the fact that B-HEARD is only available 16 hours per day: “Emergencies don’t conform to a clock.”

City officials say staffing and retention is the primary issue, and argue that people in a mental crisis are more apt to accept help from B-HEARD than police. Mayoral spokesperson Kate Smart also noted that 30% of individuals who interact with B-HEARD wind up “being treated and served in their community.”

In other news…

Though it’s surely not the journey to relationship growth any couple hopes to take, behavioral analyst Wendy L. Patrick wrote in Psychology Today about research that suggests economic stress can strengthen marriages. (In that case, a lot of us have more married bliss to look forward to.)

Interested in more reading about the shadow side of pregnancy and motherhood? The Guardian suggests Marianne Levy’s new memoir, Don’t Forget To Scream, which it says offers readers an unpolished look at the experience with all its feels, from birth phobia to loneliness to the journey back to a sense of self and self-worth. 

If you or someone you know is in crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988. Or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. En Español: 1-888-628-9454; Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 1-800-799-4889. Services are free and available 24/7.

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Courtney Wise

Courtney Wise Randolph is a writer and creative based in Detroit, Michigan.