During the month of May, there is a focus on Mental Health Awareness. It is an especially important observance for the Black community, where more than 16 percent of those who identify as Black or African American have reported having a mental health illness in the past year. It is even more important when we narrow in on people who are pregnant, since one in five mothers meet the criteria for a mental health disorder during or after pregnancy.

Many think of Mother’s Day, baby showers and happy beginnings when they think of May, but our country is still in the middle of a pandemic and financial crisis. The State of the Nation’s Mental Health report unveils that the U.S. is experiencing a dramatic increase in mental health needs. The past year has been marked by uncertainty, isolation, grief and trauma from things such as human loss, divisive politics and police brutality. This has all taken a heavy toll on people who are pregnant or just had a baby, particularly because they also have to deal with the physical and emotional challenges that come naturally during and after pregnancy.

Maternal mental health conditions are the most common complications of pregnancy and childbirth. These conditions include depression, anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar illness, substance use disorders, and even postpartum psychosis. If left untreated, they can have long-term, negative impacts on parents, babies, families and society. Almost 40 percent of Black people who are pregnant and new moms experience these maternal mental health conditions – twice as many as white women, yet Black women are half as likely to receive treatment.

Between the mental health crisis that has gripped our nation and the maternal mental health crisis that disproportionately impacts Black people, it is obvious that action is needed. That action has to start by raising awareness and initiating conversations. Amerigroup Maryland has made a commitment to starting these conversations and connecting entire communities with the education, information and resources needed to address issues.

When Amerigroup becomes aware that a member is pregnant, outreach is conducted to share information about benefits, resources and supports. During this outreach, Amerigroup care managers use a Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) to screen for potential issues. Case managers also employ a method call motivational interviewing to open conversations about mental health and substance use issues. Amerigroup has also been leading campaigns to educate partnering providers and community advocates about tools and resources that can start conversations about mental health early enough to address concerns before they become life-threatening issues. And when Amerigroup can’t be the one to start the conversation, it hopes pregnant members start the conversation by reaching out to their healthcare providers or Amerigroup Member Services – even if it is just to let them know that they are pregnant.

Amerigroup also urges friends and family of pregnant people to make an effort to initiate conversations about mental health during pregnancy and after birth. Social and cultural stigma are among the top reasons why pregnant and postpartum people do not access needed mental health and substance use disorder resources. Having candid conversations about feelings and emotions, or just checking in to ask a pregnant person how they are doing, could go a long way in breaking the stigma to start the process of getting help. Open-ended questions should be asked, such as: “It must be really hard transitioning to being a mom, so how is that going for you?” Personal experiences about being tired, lonely and depressed should be shared as ice breakers. Also, reminders should be given that not everyone has to follow the same pregnancy advice that is trending on social media, and that it is OK to get help from a professional.

Amerigroup serves as one source of truth by offering evidence-based information and resources on its Pregnancy & Women’s Health page at https://www.myamerigroup.com/md/care/pregnancy-womens-health.html. And for those who prefer to get personalized health info, tips, resources and tools by phone, text or app, are encouraged to check out MyAdvocateHelps.com.

Mental health is a critical component of a healthy pregnancy and healthy futures for new families. If awareness about maternal mental health is not raised and conversations are not started, we cannot make progress in getting past the mental health crisis that is plaguing our nation, the Black community, and pregnant/postnatal people. Mental Health Awareness month encourages everyone to take time to learn more about maternal mental health, to be empowered with awareness, and to start conversations that can improve and save lives. Take an initiative to do your part, and if you need help, start by visiting Amerigroup.com.

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