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State bills aimed to provide better mental health resources for mothers

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A new package of legislation is aiming to make mental health resources more accessible and efficient for underserved mothers in New York state.

Mary Bartlett recalls lying face-down on her living room couch in her Albany home with one arm dangling off the edge. She couldn’t move.

“I couldn't have gotten up,” she said. “Even if you told me the house was on fire. It was that dire.”

She didn’t know that she was experiencing post-partum depression.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in eight women suffers from post-partum depression after giving birth, and a recent study by the CDC showed that the rate of depression diagnoses at delivery is increasing.

“To me, and I hope to many of you, this is a crisis,” said Rochester-area state Sen. Samra Brouk.

She and other Assembly members and mental health advocates are heading a package of three bills intended to make mental health resources more accessible and efficient for underserved mothers in New York state.

Bartlett wishes those provisions had been available to her.

“You're left to sort of figure things out on your own,” Bartlett said. “The sole focus becomes caring for the newborn, not the well-being of the new mom.”

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Democratic state Sen. Samra Brouk represents New York's 55th District, which includes parts of Monroe and Ontario counties. She is the chair of the committee on mental health.

Brouk’s legislation package would ensure that depression screenings are available during prenatal, postnatal and pediatric visits. It also would address inadequacies in current depression screening methods, and prioritize establishing an outreach group to focus on underdiagnosed moms in more vulnerable populations.

“Birthing people have been waiting for someone to tell them, ‘It's OK to say you're not doing well,’” Brouk said. “They've been waiting for someone to show up and ask them culturally relevant questions, to find out how they can be doing better, how they can actually find solutions.”

She added that untreated maternal depression and anxiety can be deadly and isolating, especially for Black women.

“Our maternal mental health conditions are largely underreported, and symptoms often go unaddressed,” she said.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness reported that compared to white women, Black women are three times more likely and Latinas are 40% more likely to experience postpartum depression. Brouk said the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the disparities in mental health care and resources.

“There’s a lot of work that lies ahead,” Brouk said. “What I'm confident about is that we are taking an important first step.”