BOSTON and AMHERST – MotherWoman, State Representative Ellen Story (D-Amherst) and a statewide coalition of supporters are proud to announce that the Governor signed the Postpartum Depression Bill, House Bill 4859 into law today, Thursday, August 19th. It is now Chapter 313 of the Acts of 2010.
This bill’s passage is a milestone for Massachusetts: our first official recognition that perinatal depressive and anxiety disorders are the most common complication of pregnancy, and demand the attention of our public health system.
House 4859 will help mothers who experience Postpartum Depression by bringing together a diverse commission of stakeholders to draw public attention to the issue and recommend statewide policies on how it can be most effectively addressed. The bill also calls on the state Department of Public Health to pull together referral lists of treatment and support resources, and to educate providers and the public about this common and treatable – but widely unrecognized – family issue. 15% of mothers in the Commonwealth suffer from postpartum depression, a painful condition marked by despair, guilt, anxiety, and fears of hurting oneself or one’s baby.
The commission will include survivors, nurses, doctors, insurers, advocates, legislators, and others – all stakeholders that have been at the table with Rep. Story since she began working on this issue over two years ago. Many coalition members have dedicated their careers to addressing this critical issue, which causes undue suffering for families and can, if untreated, have devastating consequences on children’s development.
One of these stakeholders is Jeanne Watson Driscoll, a Clinical Nurse Specialist in Psychiatric Nursing who works in private practice with women who suffer from postpartum depression and other similar illnesses. She is also a widely-recognized expert on these issues, a frequent speaker and commentator, and the author of several books including Women's Moods and Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders: A Clinician's Guide. Dr. Driscoll was excited to learn about the bill’s progress: “There are no words to express my joy and excitement about this bill moving forward. Having been passionately involved in this specialty area of women's mental health care for greater than thirty years . . . with this bill, women will finally know that they are not alone. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and it is NOT a train!!!”
Many survivors of postpartum depression have also come forward to support the bill, in hopes that other mothers will not have to suffer as they did:
“We were overjoyed when our son was born, but immediately I experienced signs of severe anxiety and I was unable to sleep – at all! My parents needed to move in with us to help with care of our newborn infant as my husband had to go back to work and I was incapable of taking care of our baby. Fortunately, my lactation consultant identified my postpartum difficulties and I was able to receive the care I needed. I was one of the lucky few. For many mothers, they struggle in isolation and never receive the support they need. The postpartum depression bill will ensure that providers recognize a mother struggling and put her in touch with resources that can help," said Liz Friedman, Director of Programming at MotherWoman, Inc.
MotherWoman, Inc, an organization based in Amherst which has been taking the lead on supporting women experiencing postpartum depression in Western Mass, was critical in bringing the issue of PPD to the attention of Rep. Ellen Story and inspiring her to become the lead advocate on behalf of the Postpartum Legislation. “We met with Rep. Story in the spring of 2008 and told her about our concerns, commitment and work with postpartum mothers in Western Mass. She listened intently to us. And when the meeting was done, we knew she was going to do something about it. She is the champion of every mother who ever has or ever will experience postpartum depression!” said Annette Cycon, Founder and Director of Training for MotherWoman, Inc.
Other strong bill supporters include those who have researched the impact of parental depression on children and how treatment benefits the whole family. Dr. Joshua Sparrow, a child psychiatrist at Children’s Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School, who has written extensively on child development with T. Berry Brazelton, was encouraged by the bill's potential to identify and treat postpartum depression early, keeping children's development on track.
As he explained, "Not only do mothers suffer, but so do their children, whose long-term development can be thrown off course. Although many children are remarkably resilient and learn to adapt, depression in parents can interfere with communication in the family, and with children’s learning to handle emotions. Emotional and behavioral problems often result, jeopardizing children’s school success and adding to the family’s stress. By treating depression as early as possible, mothers can be spared needless agony and children's futures can be protected.”
The experience, expertise, and hope these and so many more coalition members have brought to the table have only increased Rep. Story’s commitment to this new law: “Being a new mother is hard enough. But when you are blindsided by a debilitating depression at the same time, life becomes impossible,” she said. “I have been deeply impressed and humbled by the many experts and survivors who have joined our coalition to pass this important bill, and I will continue to work hard to ensure it reaches final passage. Postpartum depression is treatable, and the commission created by H 4859 will give Massachusetts the tools we need to become a national leader in addressing this critical family issue.”