In-Depth: Postpartum depression rises during pandemic

Telehealth offers new treatment options
Posted at 6:10 AM, Jul 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-09 11:44:02-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - The number of expectant and new mothers reporting symptoms of anxiety, depression, and postpartum depression rose during the coronavirus pandemic, according to doctors at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital.

Before the pandemic, the CDC says about 1 in 8 pregnant women or new mothers were diagnosed with some form of postpartum depression. Over the last 18 months, Sharp Mary Birch doctors say that has risen to about 1 in 5.

"It's a time of heightened stress for a lot of women," says Sharp Mary Birch Chief Medical Officer Joana Adamczak. "The pandemic created these periods of isolation, where you don't have mom groups that normally people would be able to focus with and talk to. You had a lot of isolation from family members."

Many mothers have also been afraid to seek help because of fear of catching COVID-19 or giving it to their children.

"The pandemic had really heightened this sense of isolation for women, and so that was really troubling," says Dr. Adamczak.

To help, Sharp Mary Birch Hospital began several virtual programs, from support groups and classes to telehealth visits with doctors and therapists.

"A lot of this can be treated very effectively with just therapy; talk therapy and group therapy are really beneficial," says Adamczak.

That kind of treatment could become the norm in California. Assembly Bill 935, introduced by San Diego Assemblyman Brian Maienschein, would create a statewide telehealth program for new mothers struggling with mental health.

"This step will make sure they get the treatment so they can recover," he says. "We know there's a problem. How do we fix that problem? Now all these women will be able to have a plan in place that allows them to get the help that they need."

The bill will go before the legislature in 2022. Maienschein says he hopes it can go into effect by next summer.

In the meantime, lawmakers need to determine whether or not to continue the Provisional Postpartum Care Extension (PPCE) program. That expanded mental health coverage for women on Medi-Cal or MCAP coverage from two months to a full year. It expires on December 31.

Dr. Adamczak says erasing the stigma of postpartum depression is just as important as any form of treatment.

"Talk to your family. Talk to your friends. Talk to your co-workers," she says. "The more you talk about it, the more you'll find out that you're not alone."