Nine months after having my daughter, I started volunteering for Postpartum Support International (PSI).
My postpartum experience opened my eyes to the alarming lack of emotional and mental health resources for new moms. Despite the fact that 1 in every 5 moms suffer from postpartum depression, the majority remain untreated and undiagnosed.
I wanted to better understand this problem and improve outcomes for new moms. So I joined PSI and began supporting moms in Minneapolis and Baltimore.
This experience has fueled my passion to build a better world for moms by advocating for increased access to mental health support.
My postpartum experience
While I didn’t personally suffer from postpartum depression, I experienced increased levels of anxiety and overwhelm. Accessing two types of mental health support helped me navigate the early challenges of motherhood.
First, I joined a peer support group in Minnesota, where I connected with seven other moms on a weekly basis. Together, we explored a range of topics — from birth stories to postpartum adjustment, newborn sleep, and relationships. Connecting with this group became the highlight of my week, as we shared our stories, empathized with each other, and realized we were not alone in our struggles.
Second, my husband and I established a relationship with a couples therapist, which equipped us with the tools and skills to maintain a strong relationship and resolve issues before they became bigger problems later. We walked away from every session feeling better and with a lot more empathy and understanding for each other.
We’re so grateful for these resources. They had a significant impact on improving our overall mental health and bolstered our confidence as new parents.
Volunteering for PSI
As a local coordinator for PSI, serving Baltimore and Minneapolis, I provide support, information, and resources to new moms and families who are having a hard time during pregnancy or the transition to parenthood. This support can range from offering words of encouragement to researching qualified, local mental health professionals covered by insurance, tailored to the specific needs of a help seeker.
What I’ve learned so far
My time with PSI has exposed me to a lot of insights. Here are the most surprising discoveries:
- Most people don’t know about PSI: Despite being the world’s leading non-profit dedicating to helping women with perinatal mental health disorders (PMHDs) since it was founded in 1987, PSI is not well known, even within the medical community serving new moms. This includes my own OB/Gyn, my daughter’s pediatrician, as well as close friends who are healthcare professionals serving serving new moms and babies (in primary care, neonatal NICUs, birthing centers, and fertility clinics). Increasing awareness around PSI’s comprehensive services is crucial for connecting new moms, healthcare providers, and communities with the support they need.
- PMHDs are often misunderstood: Postpartum depression is just one of a broader range of emotional and mental health disorders during pregnancy and postpartum, referred to as perinatal mood and health disorders (or ‘PMHDs’). It includes everything from anxiety to more severe illnesses like psychosis. Sadly, psychosis is widely misunderstood. I learned more about this during a webinar hosted by PSI. It affects 1 in every 1,000 moms (and likely many more go undiagnosed), where new moms suffer a break from reality. The low awareness and intense stigma prevents moms from seeking help early for this temporary yet treatable condition.
- New moms are struggling: Talking to more than 20 moms in Baltimore, Minneapolis, and other cities deepened my understanding of the challenges new moms encounter. All moms exhibited symptoms of a PMHD during pregnancy or postpartum — most commonly feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and stressed. Each woman’s journey is unique, influenced by diverse backgrounds, medical histories, life circumstances, and financial access, highlighting the complexity of this problem:
- The mom who didn’t feel like herself and felt detached from her 3 month old baby. She struggled to balance everything else going in her life — a recent move, finishing grad school, and managing a health complication for her firstborn.
- The mom who was 6 weeks pregnant with her second baby and previously on medications for depression and a painful neurological disorder. She was experiencing severe withdrawal after her primary care provider advised her to wean from all medications for a safe pregnancy and was looking for alternatives.
- And many more moms who reported crying constantly. The moms who felt resentment towards their babies for not sleeping. The moms who felt guilty for not doing enough. The moms who experienced regret for how much their life changed.
- There is a shortage of therapists trained in PMHDs: The demand for therapists specializing in PMHDs (and therapists in general) is high. New moms are eager to get help as they navigate the complexities of their new lives with babies. However, there is a shortage of qualified professionals, hindering timely access to the specialized care they need.
- Direct support is a luxury: While therapists and psychiatrists play a key role in providing direct support and helping moms overcome PMHDs, they are expensive. Many mental health providers who don’t accept insurance charge prohibitively high fees of $100-200 per hour out of pocket. This becomes unaffordable, particularly for the 42% of new moms on Medicaid in the United States.
A call to action
To successfully connect new moms with the mental health resources they need to thrive during their pregnancy and postpartum journey, concerted efforts are needed:
We need to raise more awareness around PSI: Specifically, the comprehensive services they offer to new moms, parents, and health providers – including information about PMHDs, the national helpline (1.800.944.4773), medication resources, and free support groups. This knowledge should be disseminated widely to ensure all new families and stakeholders serving new moms and babies are aware of this valuable resource.
We need more cost-effective interventions. In addition to increasing the number of PMHD-trained mental health professionals, we need to elevate other, affordable interventions that reach more moms. This includes peer support groups, community initiatives, and technology-driven solutions that integrate mental health services into Ob/Gyn care. We need to prioritize testing of innovative technologies that deliver high-quality services while protecting patient health information.
We need to educate everyone about PMHDs. We need to eradicate the stigma around PMHDs—among new moms, co-parents, and anyone else serving new moms. The more we talk about PMHDs, the less stigma, shame, and guilt there will be and the more empowered new moms will feel to seek help without fear or judgment.
No mom should have to endure the challenges of PMHDs in silence.
Seeking help is an act of courage and necessity. It could be life-saving. Help is available and Postpartum Support International is a great place to start. Increasing awareness around this organization and PMHDs as well as advocating for cost-effective interventions can help drive better outcomes for new moms.
Moms deserve the support they need to thrive during their pregnancy and postpartum journey.
Nancy Goh, MPH, is PSI coordinator for Minneapolis and Baltimore. After becoming a mom in 2021, she wants to help build a better world for new moms by fixing system gaps and sharing lessons from her own postpartum journey at www.nancygohkelly.com. Nancy has worked in strategy, operations, and advocacy for large healthcare organizations for 15+ years. She lives in Minnesota with her husband and young daughter and enjoys yoga, running, and listening to podcasts while cooking.