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Featured PSI Member: Heather Anne Swensen Motta

PSI Volunteer Heather Anne Swensen Motta:
Climb Out of the Darkness Brazil Team Leader, Brazil Coordinator

Note: There are many types of perinatal mental health disorders, and at times a range of unexpected consequences. This interview makes note of a tragic outcome that was a consequence of one woman’s illness. Please reach out to us if you need support or have any questions about perinatal mental health at 800-944-4773. One of our trained volunteers will call you back within hours.


2017 Climb Out of the Darkness in Brazil

Tell us about yourself outside of your volunteering

I was born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska, a second generation Alaskan, the oldest of five, with a large extended family which gathered often over tacos, fishing stories, and my grandma’s peanut butter fudge. I earned a B.S. in Fish & Wildlife Biology from Montana State University eons ago, which I rarely use other than to fish, bird, and be wild with my boys. I’m currently a stay-at-home mother, living in the very south of Brazil on a federal Ecological Station with my husband, a Wildlife Law Enforcement Officer, and our two rambunctious but happy boys, 13 and 10. My favorite self-care hobbies include digging in my garden, yoga exercise and readings, and getting outside as much as possible.

What sparked your interest in postpartum mental health?

** Trigger warning** Sadly, my interest in postpartum mental health followed the suicide and tragic loss of a former college classmate and friend, Jen Knarr and her family in 2016. I knew nothing of postpartum mental health complications, and never in one million years imagined something like that would happen to someone I knew, let alone Jen. I felt compelled to raise awareness and help new parents, especially living in a rural area where I imagine many feel overly isolated and are located far from most health care.

Tell us about your volunteering with PSI

My volunteer work started three years ago with my first Climb Out of the Darkness. I did it with my family, and I felt proud to honor Jen and her family. Joining PSI for my second Climb, I gained valuable connections with many experienced maternal mental health advocates within PSI, especially Wendy Davis and our Climb Leader, Emily Newton. This year, for my third Climb Out of the Darkness event, I feet a large connection and know we are raising awareness all over the US and Canada in addition to the handful of international Climbs, including mine. I can see myself fitting in with other countries in our attempt to help gain more exposure and adequate treatment of PMADs via the Climb Out events, hopefully bringing in more countries each year.

What do you think the PSI world community might like to know about maternal mental health and treatment in Brazil?

Treatment in Brazil faces the stigma of mental illness, the traditional image of the perfect mother who should do it all, and socioeconomic factors contributing to less-than ideal treatment of pregnant women of lower social class. Statistics from a study (Fiocruz) showed 1 out of 4 new mothers 6-18 months postpartum showed signs of depression, with socioeconomic factors playing a large part, which makes sense given the large inequality of wealth.

With Brazil’s medical system based on federal budgets, and corruption sucking funds drastically, many health centers and hospitals have a high caseload, are barely making it, and mental health is very low on the priority list, if it even was on the list. On the positive side, this same socialized medical system does give all the population access to basic health care. I am learning about many family-based programs already in place, which have the potential to give large, standardized coverage if a strong maternal mental health plan was developed. Family ties are strong in Brazil, and six-month maternity leave is standard. I am in contact with a few medical professionals who are having the important conversations, both online in social media, and with their medical colleagues. I feel grateful and confident that together we will be able to compile a network here and get PSI – Brasil in the works.

Heather Anne Swensen Motta with Wendy Davis


This is the second of a series of interviews of featured members of PSI. If you know of a PSI member you think we should feature, please contact membership@postpartum.net.

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