Amid budget cuts and belt-tightening efforts to curb healthcare spending, the Baker-Polito administration set aside $200,000 for a postpartum depression pilot program at community health centers around Boston.
“This is an example of the steadfastness of seven years of advocacy,” said Dr. Michael Yogman, a pediatrician and commissioner in the Massachusetts Special Legislative Commission on postpartum depression, at a meeting Wednesday. “I think this commission is the first step in getting people to talk and create a much more integrated approach.”
The commission, which was established by law in 2010, works with the Department of Public Health to establish postpartum depression screenings and advocate for maternal mental health in the greater Boston area. While a recent study cites that 1 in 7 women experience depression after giving birth, a stigma still surrounds the issue keeping at-risk women from seeking help.
“If you admit to the state that you want to throw your child out of a car, there’s a fear that you’ll be reported to the [Department of Children and Families],” Commission Chair Rep. Ellen Story (D-Amherst) said. Story said that funding the pilot program was a step in the right direction but there is still much work to be done to normalize the conversation around postpartum depression.
Commissioners in attendance at the meeting praised the recent federal government-appointed panel recommendations but also noted that without corresponding increases in funding for counseling and referral systems, the screenings alone wouldn’t accomplish much.
“How many of you have lied during your screening?” one postpartum depression survivor asked other mothers in attendance. Five women raised their hands.
“The most important thing is to let women know this is common. You’re not alone,” said Susan Petcher, a representative from the support website Postpartum Progress.
Rep. Story says she, along with Sen. Joan Lovely (D-Essex), will work to ensure that the postpartum depression funding remains in the budget as it passes through legislative discussion sessions.
Congresswoman Katherine Clark who is sponsoring a bill entitled Bringing Postpartum Depression Out of the Shadows Act is optimistic. She says that the bill has already seen a substantial amount of bipartisan support in Congress.
“As you know, Congress is not the best functioning place,” Clark said. “This is one of those issues that we have found that you can work across the aisle, because this is an issue that doesn’t care if you’re from a red state or a blue state. It’s about helping moms and helping children.”