Bringing maternal mental health resources directly to doctors and their patients

SAN FRANCISCO (March 2019) – Real-time professional mental health support is now available to help women affected by postpartum depression at Dignity Health in an effort to ease access and address stigma.

The health care ministry is piloting a provider-to-provider psychiatric telephone consultation service, enabling providers to speak in real-time with perinatal psychiatrists for coaching on diagnosis, management, and pharmacology. This service is funded through the support of donors, at no cost to providers, medical groups, patients, or payers.

“We know that most pregnant and postpartum women, even when they are struggling with debilitating depression or anxiety, will not seek direct help from a mental health professional,” says Miriam Schultz, MD, a perinatal psychiatrist who provides support to providers with the diagnosis, treatment planning, and medication management of pregnant and postpartum women through this pilot.

Dr. Schultz providing a consultation.Dr. Miriam Schultz providing a consultation call with a Dignity Health provider on the management of a patient's maternal mental health needs.

According to Dr. Schultz there are multiple reasons for women not seeking help from a professional mental health provider—one is perceived stigma associated with mental health problems, and another is difficulty accessing care. 

“We also know that without treatment, these struggles can have devastating effects on women and their families,” says Dr. Schultz. “This pilot program is designed to help meet women who are struggling where they are, by empowering and educating OB/GYNs, nurse-midwives, and family practice doctors they can intervene, support, and start to treat illnesses such as depression and anxiety as soon as they are detected. The direct effect? Better-supported moms means more stable, healthy families.”

The Perinatal Psychiatry Consultation Service is now offered to all perinatal providers in California—obstetric, pediatric, primary care, and psychiatric providers—with questions about how to address the mental health concerns of pregnant or postpartum women. 

In the United States 900,000 women experience postpartum anxiety or depression every year. Yet, only 50,000 receive professional help. At Dignity Health, we are working to change that. 

In 2016, Dignity Health Foundation selected maternal mental health as a priority system-wide patient care initiative. Our vision is to:

  • Make mental health education and screening a routine part of prenatal, postpartum, and well-child check-ups.
  • Support OB/GYN and family practice providers’ capacity to serve as the home base for maternal mental health treatment.
  • Lessen stigma and improve access to care.

To learn more, please contact Barbara Sheehy, manager of Dignity Health’s Maternal Mental Health Project.