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A woman at the bottom of a ladder reaching out for help

How to get help for perinatal mental health

A woman at the bottom of a ladder reaching out for help1

July 14, 2020

By Nicole Arzt, LMFT

It’s challenging to admit you’re struggling with postpartum depression, anxiety, or another perinatal mental health disorder. If you’ve identified the problem, recognize that your acknowledgment is the first step towards change. In an ideal world, this acknowledgment would be the hardest part, and accessing treatment would naturally come next.

Unfortunately, navigating our current healthcare system isn’t always so intuitive. We’ll walk you through the common challenges and how to overcome them.

Who should you talk to first?

There isn’t a perfect answer to this question, as it depends on your current support system and individual circumstances. If you’re in a healthy relationship, you may want to first talk to your partner. After all, the two of you are in this phase together, and they probably want to help you as best they can. Some mothers also choose to confide in other relatives or friends.

After sharing your feelings with loved ones, it’s best to consult with a medical professional. Start the conversation with your primary care physician or ob-gyn. Today, many doctors screen their patients for perinatal mental health with various questionnaires. However, you still may need to take the initiative to share your concerns.

There isn’t a “right way” to talk about your feelings. You may want to track your thoughts and emotions for a few days and bring them to your appointment. Aim to be as honest as you can be about disclosing your symptoms. Remember that even if it feels shameful or scary, your doctor’s job is to help and support you.

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What should you do if your concerns aren’t taken seriously?

Although anywhere from 10-20% of new mothers experience clinical postpartum depression, some health providers don’t fully understand perinatal mental health. First, it’s important to remember to advocate your feelings and needs. This is your body and mind. You know it better than anyone else.

If you feel dismissed by your health provider, consider approaching your perspective directly. You can do this firmly and respectfully with a comment like, I want you to know that I’m actually struggling with feeling sad right now. Can we talk about this a little more?

This kind of direct prompting should facilitate a more thorough conversation with your doctor. If it doesn’t, you may want to consider switching providers or speaking directly with a mental health professional specializing in perinatal mental health.

What should I expect for treatment?

Treatment varies depending on your mental health history, current symptoms, and personal preferences. With that in mind, many women benefit from therapy, psychiatric medication, or both.

Therapy for perinatal mental health provides a safe and supportive place to explore your emotions. Your therapist can teach you useful coping skills to manage overwhelming thoughts and feelings. Furthermore, they can help you process the changes and discomfort that naturally come with motherhood. When it comes to treating perinatal mental health, women can benefit from individual therapy as well as couples, family, and group therapy.

Antidepressant medication (SSRIs) can help women struggling with both depression or anxiety conditions. SSRIs increase the levels of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that supports mood stabilization, self-esteem, and happiness.

It can be a process of trial-and-error to determine the combination that works best for you. Some women find themselves feeling better after just a few therapy sessions or medication changes. Others need more long-term support. No matter what treatment you need, you deserve to feel good about yourself and your baby!

If I can’t afford treatment, what are my options?

No matter your financial situation, immediate, low-cost support is available. It’s essential to know your resources and have them available to you.

National Alliance on Mental Illness:
Call 800-950-NAMI. NAMI provides extensive resources and information about treatment for individuals and their loved ones struggling with mental illness.

National Crisis Text Line:
Text HOME to 741741 from anywhere in the USA, anytime, about any crisis. You will be connected to a crisis counselor that can help you move through your distress.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline and Website:
Call 1-800-273-8255 for confidential, 24/7 support.

Postpartum Support International:
Call 800-944-4773. PSI will help connect you to local support groups and coordinators in your area.


Nicole Arzt is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with nearly a decade of experience treating women's issues related to parenting and family dynamics, complex trauma, and substance use disorders. She is the proud mama of her newborn son.

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