Expanding Perinatal Mental Health

Terry Gomez, Ph.D. at the Women's Pavilion at Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst
Terry Gomez, Ph.D. at the Women's Pavilion at Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst

Perinatal Infant Mental Health Consultant Terry Gomez, Ph.D., delivering her presentation at Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst’s “baby shower”

Congresswomen Meng and Ocasio-Cortez support new services at Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst, a Child Center partner.

Terry Gomez, Ph.D., has attended her fair share of baby showers, but the one she attended last month was a first: One of the gifts was a check for 3.8 million dollars.

The gift givers were U.S. Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Grace Meng, and the recipients are the many pregnant and new moms receiving care at NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst’s Women’s Pavilion.

The Women’s Pavilion is a beautiful two-story facility adjacent to the hospital’s main building, where women can access outpatient prenatal care such as pregnancy testing, genetic counseling, nutrition, high-risk pregnancy, and postpartum services. The new funding will support renovations and expanded services that will directly benefit patients.

Since March, The Child Center of NY’s 0-5 Early Childhood Mental Health team, including Dr. Gomez, has been providing services to Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst through a Perinatal Infant Mental Health Consultation pilot program to support pregnant people and new moms. Dr. Gomez, who serves as the program’s Perinatal Infant Mental Health Consultant, was asked to deliver a presentation at the baby shower about the importance of perinatal mental health—and how partnerships like the one between Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst and The Child Center play a pivotal role in early intervention so that moms with symptoms can start life with their newborn on the right foot.

“Nearly 80 percent of new mothers experience the ‘baby blues,’ which can feel like a rollercoaster of emotions—feeling happy one minute, and tearful, stressed, exhausted, and overwhelmed the next,” Dr. Gomez says. “In some cases, time and the support of family and friends can help a new mom through this transitional period. But sometimes what a mom is experiencing is actually a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder, and more help is needed.”

During the presentation, Dr. Gomez explained that perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) is a clinical term for what most people refer to as “postpartum depression.” Our Perinatal Infant Mental Health Consultation program reaches women struggling with PMADs, and especially women who have been exposed to or experienced trauma that can exacerbate PMAD symptoms.

“PMADs are actually a group of symptoms,” Dr. Gomez says. “Depression is the most common PMAD, followed by anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, and postpartum psychosis.” Symptoms include a variety of fears, including fears of being left alone with the baby, harming the baby, or self-harm. Excessive concern or lack of concern for the baby, constant worrying, and hearing or seeing things that are not there are also symptoms. One in five women experience a PMAD in the perinatal period, and, unsurprisingly, PMAD rates have risen exponentially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sadly, while rates of PMADS are high, rates of diagnosis remain low: Up to 80% of cases go undiagnosed or untreated due to stigma, lack of awareness, and scarcity of specialized treatment options. It’s especially an issue in the communities The Child Center serves, as studies show that 40% of low-income women experience a PMAD in the perinatal period. It’s the number one complication associated with childbirth and can have long-lasting effects, such as poor mother-baby attachment and developmental delays in children.

The Child Center-Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst Perinatal Infant Mental Health Consultation program works to reverse these alarming figures by collaborating with hospital staff to provide mental health services during the maternity and postpartum period; supporting staff and patients with identifying symptoms; and addressing barriers to accessing mental health services. When clients are referred to us, our ECMH team can provide therapy, support groups, psychiatric services, community resources, and other tools to support new moms in becoming the parents they want to be.

The baby shower was a kickoff event celebrating the expansion of women’s health care services, including our Perinatal Infant Mental Health Consultation program, and renovations that include the connecting of the Women’s Pavilion directly to the labor and delivery floor in the main building. Congresswomen Meng and Ocasio-Cortez were instrumental in securing funding for the project, reflecting their commitment to patient care and women’s and children’s health—including mental health.

The Child Center of NY's Terry Gomez with Congresswoman Grace Meng at Elmhurst Hospital

Congresswoman Grace Meng with Dr. Gomez

Congresswoman Meng attended the event and spoke passionately about the importance of supporting women’s health, specifically pregnant women’s health, by ensuring they have access to resources that are vital to having a healthy pregnancy and healthy babies.

Other guests included members of Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez’s staff, current patients of the Women’s Pavilion and their families, medical staff, hospital administrators, MetroPlus representatives, and other partnering agencies.

Music by eGALitarian Brass provided a poignant backdrop, and brochures and other materials about pregnancy and motherhood were available to guests. Bilingual presentations offered patients more information, about which they could ask speakers afterward.

The shower concluded with Congresswoman Meng and Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst CEO Helen Arteaga Landaverde distributing raffle prizes, including two playpens, Target gift cards, and goody bags with self-care products.

In addition to speaking about The Child Center’s partnership with Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst, Dr. Gomez shared information about our Macari Perinatal Intensive Outpatient Program, which also supports pregnant and new moms with mental health needs.

“It was a wonderful event to be part of,” Dr. Gomez says. “I am truly grateful that I had this opportunity to share knowledge and spread awareness about maternal mental health to the Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst community.”

Linda Rodriguez, senior vice president of behavioral health for The Child Center, noted that our partnership has been so successful that the ECMH team is planning to expand this approach to other H+H hospitals.

The Child Center is the only Queens provider of mental health services for children 0-5 in NYC’s Early Childhood Mental Health Network. Our organization began as a single children’s counseling center in Queens, and though we’ve grown to become a multiservice organization, a commitment to mental health remans at the heart of everything we do.

“Just as we need to ensure that children begin school academically ready to learn, we also need to ensure they begin life socially and emotionally ready to thrive,” says Child Center CEO Traci Donnelly. “I am proud that our ECMH program and our partnership with Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst helps families with that piece of the puzzle.”

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