21st Century Cures Act Tackles Postpartum Depression

The new legislation includes grants to help diagnose and treat this prevalent issue

sleeping baby
Postpartum depression inflicts one in seven mothers after their child's birth. JulieanneBirch via iStock

This afternoon the 21st Century Cures Act was signed into law by President Obama. This $6.3 billion dollar package funds a broad range of issues, including the Cancer Moonshot, the opioid epidemic, FDA drug approval as well as mental health treatments. Among these many provisions, however, the bill also addresses a topic that has received little attention over the years: postpartum depression.

This mental health condition is part of a wider problem of maternal depression that occurs both before and after childbirth. Postpartum depression inflicts up to one in seven mothers after their child's birth. But only around half of those women ever get diagnosed. Proposed by representative Katherine M. Clark, the Bringing Postpartum Depression Out of the Shadows Act provides $5 million per year from 2018 to 2022 for states to develop screening and treatment programs for mothers. 

"Women are falling through the cracks and not getting treatment, even when they're crying out for help," Joy Burkhard, founder of the National Coalition for Maternal Mental Health, tells Annamarya Scaccia at Broadly. "It's the fault of our medical system for not catching the problem."

It's not easy to diagnose and can easily be confused with the so-called "baby blues"—a week or so of mild depression, worry and fatigue in the first year after they give birth, which inflicts roughly 80 percent of mothers. But without treatment, postpartum depression can last for months or years, impacting the mother and child's quality of life.

Women with postpartum depression often have difficulty following a breastfeeding schedule. They sometimes don't form an emotional attachment to their child. They could even consider hurting themselves or their baby. 

“As a mom of three boys, I know how rewarding, as well as how overwhelming and exhausting, a new baby can be,” Clark tells Caroline Bologna at The Huffington Post. “Moms comprise fewer than a fifth of Congress, so it’s especially important for us to bring these perspectives into policymaking. I introduced this bill because our moms need to know they matter ― that we, as a nation, value them and will fight for the health and success of their families.”

The grants will go towards programs similar to the Massachusetts Child Psychiatry Access Project (MCPAP) for Moms, a Massachusetts state-funded program launched in 2014 to provide training and tool kits for recognizing PPD. The program also established three call centers across the state available for doctors with queries about psychiatric support services.

“The first thing we do is we go to a practice and we provide training. We teach them about the screening tools, we teach them about how to manage depression,” Dr. Nancy Byatt, a psychiatrist at UMass Medical School who started the program tells Emily Riemer at WCVB5.

The bill also fights against the stigma of mental illness, which forces countless people into isolation. But the hope is that with more improved screening and treatment programs, fewer mother will be left to battle this illness on their own.

Editor's Note, Dec 15, 2016: This article has been corrected to show that postpartum depression only inflicts mothers after their child's birth. Depression during pregnancy is also common and the newly implemented screening is aimed at detecting and treating both postpartum depression and related conditions.

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