Mental health conditions contribute to nearly one in four pregnancy-related deaths in the US, but the national healthcare system isn’t equipped to tackle the scope of the crisis.
Pregnancy is a vulnerable period for birthing people that can either prompt new or exacerbate existing mental health problems. Postpartum depression is a widespread issue, while the risks of drug overdose and suicide increase within a year of a pregnancy. Yet struggling women frequently face payment issues, long wait times, stigma, and other barriers when they seek help—something few do in the first place.
These roadblocks are the product of the country’s fragmented healthcare system, according to maternal health providers and advocates. The hurdles reflect the broader strain on behavioral health resources, particularly in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. The problem is so severe that in 2022, the American Hospital Association called on health systems to take steps to improve maternal mental health.
As it stands, perinatal people with behavioral health issues are caught in a troublesome catch-22, said Sue Gullo, who directs healthcare improvement company Premier Inc’s women and infants unit. Mental health clinicians aren’t experts in pregnancy care, while ob-gyns and other pregnancy providers aren’t equipped to manage severe mental health issues.
“There’s all these complexities that don’t create a safety net for these moms,” Gullo said.