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May is Maternal Mental Health Month

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Community Heroes

By: Sarah Dobrovolny & Ivana Jagodic  |  May 2, 2024

My favorite thing about SMMC is the opportunity to meet other moms who are willing to connect and be honest and vulnerable about what motherhood looks and feels like. There are so many things I wish I’d known before my daughter was born, and so many other things I heard but didn’t really understand until after she arrived. And even with all of the connecting and learning I’ve done over the course of my child’s life so far, I still find myself less knowledgeable than I’d like to be about what’s been going on in my brain, my partner’s, my mom friends’ - because perinatal mental health (and mental health in general) is still so hard to talk about. So, this month, in recognition of Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month, I am so pleased to share with you this letter from Ivana Jagodic, Founder and Executive Director of the Postpartum Support Center, an organization in Marin that is one of SMMC’s nonprofit partners. I hope you find this letter as informative and action-inspiring as I did, and that you and your family will join us in raising awareness of maternal mental health at PPSC’s Walk for Moms on Sunday, May 19.

Dear Southern Marin Mothers’ Club,

At the Postpartum Support Center (PPSC), our mission is rooted in the commitment to address and alleviate the mental health challenges faced by new mothers. As we continue to support families navigating the complexities of the perinatal period, it is crucial to understand the broad spectrum of Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs) and the urgent need to raise awareness about this silent crisis.

Understanding the Perinatal Period and PMADs

The perinatal period, encompassing pregnancy and the first year after childbirth, is a transformative time for many families. However, up to 25% of women are diagnosed with a PMAD during this time. These disorders include Postpartum Depression (PPD), Anxiety (PPA), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Bipolar Disorders, and Psychosis. The prevalence of these conditions underscores a significant public health issue, with profound implications not only for the women affected but also for their families and communities.

A Silent Crisis

When envisioning an expecting or new mother, the image that often comes to mind is one of joy and contentment. However, the reality for many women is starkly different and fraught with complex challenges. Postpartum depression (PPD), a severe mental health condition that can occur after childbirth, affects approximately one in eight women in the U.S., with even higher prevalence among Black and brown women. Despite being more common than many physical postpartum complications, PPD often remains shrouded in stigma and underdiagnosed.

The Cost of Inaction

PPD transcends individual suffering; it has generational impacts, potentially leading to long-term developmental, psychological, and cognitive issues in children. Alarmingly, suicide accounts for up to 23% of postpartum deaths, underscoring the critical need for effective intervention and support.

Data Highlights the Need for Action

  • Black mothers are twice as likely to experience PMADs and half as likely to receive treatment compared to their white counterparts.
  •  Over 50% of all postpartum depression cases in the U.S. go undiagnosed.
  • Prevalence and Severity of PMADs Issues: In the United States, one in five women experiences mental health or substance use disorders during the perinatal period, covering pregnancy and the year following childbirth. Postpartum depression is particularly common, characterized by sadness, fear, and feelings of worthlessness. More severe cases can manifest as perinatal psychosis with symptoms such as extreme mood swings and hallucinations, sometimes leading to tragic outcomes like suicide or infanticide.
  • Leading Cause of Maternal Mortality: Perinatal mental health conditions are the leading cause of maternal mortality in the U.S., accounting for 23% of such deaths, with higher rates observed among Black and Native American women. This contrasts with other causes, such as excess bleeding, which accounts for 14% of maternal deaths.
  • Treatment Gaps and Barriers: A significant concern is that 75% of those suffering from PMADs issues do not receive treatment. Barriers include inadequate screening practices, the prevalence of maternity care deserts (areas with limited to no access to maternal care), and intense social stigma that deters women from seeking help. Additionally, personal shame and the public portrayal of motherhood as a purely joyful time prevent many from recognizing or acknowledging their struggles.
  • Socio-political and Environmental Factors: Various factors exacerbate PMADs conditions, including hormonal changes, genetic predisposition, sleep deprivation, and inadequate support for breastfeeding. Social determinants like poverty, domestic violence, and racism also significantly increase stress levels and the risk of mental health issues. The COVID-19 pandemic notably worsened conditions for many, leading to increased demand for perinatal support groups.
  • Challenges in Healthcare Provision: There is a glaring shortage of specialized care. This is compounded by the fact that fewer than 20% of perinatal patients report being screened for mental health issues during their care, despite recommendations for multiple screenings.
  • Personal Stories and Advocacy: Personal accounts highlight the profound impact of PMADs conditions on individuals and families. For instance, women have shared how feelings of failure and comparisons to idealized portrayals of motherhood on social media deepened their distress. Advocates emphasize that understanding and addressing PMADs issues is not just about treating individuals but supporting entire families and the broader community.

 Walk for Moms: Raising Awareness and Funds

Each year, PPSC hosts the "Walk for Moms" event to raise awareness and funds for maternal mental health. This year the walk is May 19th from 3-5pm (see the SMMC calendar for more information HERE >>). This community gathering highlights the importance of support networks and educates the public about the signs, symptoms, and treatments available for PMADs. Participation in this event is a powerful way to stand with those affected and to advocate for improved maternal mental health care.

Our Programs and How You Can Help

PPSC provides a range of services designed to support mothers and their families during the perinatal period. Our offerings include counseling, support groups, and access to specialized medical treatment. We also advocate for better policies and practices that prioritize maternal mental health.

Here’s how you can help

  1. Join the Walk for Moms: Participate in our annual event to show solidarity and raise crucial funds.
  2. Educate Yourself and Others: Learn about PMADs and share this knowledge with friends and family.
  3. Volunteer: Contribute your time and skills to help us expand our reach and impact.
  4. Donate: Financial contributions support our ongoing programs and help us develop new initiatives to serve more families.


Maternal mental health is a critical issue that impacts the entire community. By coming together to support mothers during the perinatal period, we can help mitigate the risks associated with PMADs and build a healthier future for all families.

Thank you for standing with us in this vital cause.

Warm regards,

Ivana Jagodic
Founder & Executive Director
Postpartum Support Center

Sarah Dobrovolny lives in San Anselmo with her husband Spencer and their daughter Sadie (January 2022). Sarah is a Stay At Home Mom and serves on the SMMC Board as Director of Philanthropy. Sarah also volunteers as co-leader of the San Anselmo/Fairfax town group, on the 2023/24 Events team, and as a copy editor for The Crier

More from this issue:

A Love Letter to Mothers HERE >> 

Advertorial: One in Ten—Understanding Secondary Infertility HERE >>

Calling Mom from California HERE >> 

May is Maternal Mental Health Month HERE >> 

Midlife Review HERE >>