Most states receive D's, F's on maternal mental health report card

Jaqueline Sharp, 35, remembers her anxiety “going through the roof” shortly after she gave birth to her son in 2019.

Her mental health deteriorated as she tried to balance recovery from a C-section, managing breastfeeding and baby sleep schedules, all on very, very little sleep.

By the time her son turned a month old, Sharp remembers feeling numb, overwhelmed and like she was a failure as a mother.

“I remember thinking to myself that my husband and my son would be better off if I just wasn't there,” Sharp said.

She tried to confide in friends about how she was feeling, but the conversations were difficult. “I felt so ashamed to come out and say I was thinking about killing myself.”

Sharp is one of millions of women whose mental health deteriorated after childbirth. About one in five pregnant or postpartum women in the United States will suffer from a mental health disorder such as depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts, according to the American Psychiatric Association. But very few of these women will receive treatment.

Nearly every state in the country is doing a poor job of meeting the mental health care needs of new and expectant mothers a new report from the Maternal Mental Health Policy Center.

In the report, 24 states across the country received a D grade and five states received a failing grade for their efforts to help new or expectant mothers with their mental health.

The states were divided into three categories: providers and programs, screening and screening, reimbursement and insurance coverage, and treatment.

Only three states earned higher than a C+ on the report card: California, Pennsylvania and Washington.

California earned the highest grade of all 50 states, receiving a B+, in part because the state had one inpatient maternal mental health program and expanded Medicaid coverage a year after childbirth, the report said.

Of the 18 measures used to calculate each state's score, California successfully adhered to 14.

But Golden State still has some work to do. California still not meeting ratio of non-prescriptive maternal mental health providers to perinatal population perinatal quality collaboration which prioritizes maternal mental health.

Obstetric providers in the state are also not required to submit claims to private insurers for prenatal maternal mental health screenings, something the organization says would allow researchers to collect better data on mental health issues in pregnant people.

According to the report, providers in the state generally do not submit claims to private insurers for prenatal maternal mental health care.

Overall, the country earned a grade of D+, a slight improvement over what the country earned on the think tank's 2023 report cards on maternal mental health.

Last year the US achieved a D grade and 40 states along with Washington DC received D's and F's.

The only state to receive a grade higher than a C in last year's report was California, which received a B-.

“We are seeing incremental improvements in state efforts to address maternal mental health, and improvements in the state-level data available,” said Caitlin Murphy, a research scientist at George Washington University. Milken Institute School of Public Health, who helped create the report cards.

“Yet the numbers are still dismally low… States should be commended for their hard work to address maternal mental health disparities, and we still have a long way to go,” she said.

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