AHW Community Health Grants in Wisconsin Support Maternal Mental Health

May 11, 2023 Posted by AHW Endowment

A mother snuggles her baby. In this blog, AHW discusses maternal mental health month and related community health grants in Wisconsin.

May is Maternal Mental Health Month: a month dedicated to shining a light on the mental health needs of new and expecting mothers. Maternal mental health concerns are common and affect many new mothers, their children, partners, and others. However, much work remains to ensure all mothers with maternal mental health issues have access to quality care.

With funding for community health grants in Wisconsin, AHW has supported various projects focused on developing programs and resources to improve maternal mental health care for mothers across our communities.

What is Maternal Mental Health?

Conceiving, carrying, delivering, and caring for a baby is a significant health experience in a woman’s life, both physically and mentally. Of all the complications that can come from having a baby, the most prominent and common are mental health concerns such as substance abuse disorder, depression, and anxiety. According to Postpartum Support International:

  • Up to 80% of women experience “baby blues,” or periods of tearfulness, worry, moodiness, and irritability after birth.
  • 1 in 5 women will experience depression or anxiety during pregnancy and the year following birth.
  • Only 25% of women impacted by maternal mental health issues are identified and receive treatment.

Perinatal mental health (PHM) disorders, or those that appear during pregnancy and the first 12 months after childbirth, are the top underlying cause of pregnancy-related deaths in the U.S. Affecting more than 800,000 people each year, PMH disorders new mothers experience can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Bipolar mood disorders
  • Psychosis

When these mental health concerns go untreated, they can lead to challenges that negatively impact the psychological and physical health of both a mother and her child(ren), such as behavioral and developmental problems in children, impaired bonding between mothers and babies, premature or underweight births, and maternal death.

To improve maternal mental health for Wisconsin mothers and create better health outcomes for them and their families, AHW has funded community health grants in Wisconsin that support better maternal mental health concern diagnoses and care.

Community health grants in Wisconsin_AHW Endowment

AHW-Funded Maternal Mental Health Grants in Wisconsin

Helping Home Visitors Respond to Postpartum Depression

Home visits, or a visit from a medical professional to a patient’s home to address medical conditions, are an effective strategy for supporting families with young children. For women during and after pregnancy, home visitors have an opportunity to screen mothers for depression symptoms. However, without a clear best-practice treatment plan, home visitors can face challenges in supporting mothers who demonstrate signs of depression.

With funding from AHW community health grants in Wisconsin, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin (CHW) and Medical College of Wisconsin’s (MCW) Christina Wichman, DO (Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine), developed a treatment plan algorithm (a best practice treatment plan “decision tree”), which provides tools and resources for home visitors to use the treatment plan in the field effectively.

Project partners also worked with the UW-Milwaukee Helen Bader School of Social Welfare to integrate training on the treatment plan into biannual training programs for home visiting programs and child welfare workers, in addition to other multiple state and national training for home visitors.

The project resulted in home visitors being better prepared and equipped to identify and support mothers experiencing postpartum depression, helping them access the resources they need to thrive.

Addressing Root Causes of Behavior Concerns in Mothers and their Children

When mothers and their children are given early screenings for social and emotional concerns, their ability to seek necessary care and live healthier lives increases.

In Brown County, Wisconsin, the prevalence of social and emotional disturbance among parents and their children was identified as a priority health issue. To support better mental health diagnoses and care for mothers and children, Brown County United Way and researchers from MCW Institute for Health and Equity created common maternal postpartum depression and child behavioral screening processes.

With funding from one of AHW’s community health grants in Wisconsin, project partners implemented a depression screening questionnaire for new mothers and secured agreement from all systems to provide a uniform screening for young children. They helped make information sharing more effective among health care organizations. They also increased referrals to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services’ Birth to 3 Program, which aligns children with services to support developmental milestones.

Through this work, the project partners successfully improved social and emotional health screenings for new mothers and their children, paving the way for better outcomes for families in Wisconsin.

A mother feeds her baby a bottle. With community health grants in Wisconsin, AHW has supported Maternal Mental Health concerns.

Building Trauma Screening into W-2 Case Management Services for Pregnant Women and Parents

In Wisconsin, pregnant women and parents can receive employment preparation services, case management, and cash assistance from Wisconsin Works (W-2), the state’s primary Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program provided by the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families.

Mental health plays a role in participants’ ability to find work and stay employed while enrolled in the W-2 program. However, until recently, participants were only surveyed about their mental health during intake for the program and not monitored beyond that point.

In an AHW-funded project led by Workforce Resource, Inc., and MCW’s Leslie Ruffalo, PhD, MS (Family Medicine), trauma screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment (T-SBIRT) protocol was integrated into case management processes to help participants access mental health services, learn healthy coping skills, and improve resilience in responding to trauma.

After a successful pilot project in Ashland and Eau Claire counties, the project expanded to 14 additional counties, making better mental health resources available to pregnant women and parents throughout many Wisconsin communities.

Supporting Maternal Mental Health with Community Health Grants in Wisconsin

The progress these AHW-funded projects have made in improving diagnoses and care for maternal mental health issues is crucial to the future of health for mothers and families across Wisconsin. With the continued development and availability of tools, resources, and programs to support women through maternal mental health concerns, new and expecting mothers will have better opportunities experience better health before and after birth.