November was a busy month with lots of work that I've done over the past few years culminating in some pretty great events and opportunities. I've spent the past year and half participating in a program through Mary’s Center for Maternal and Child Health to train perinatal mental heath “Champions” to develop experts in the field who can advocate and train other health care providers on how to screen and diagnose perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. Early on in 2017, informed by my experience working with Mary's Center, I connected with Dr. Katherine Wisner MD, perinatal psychiatrist and Professor of Psychiatry at Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine, and posed the idea of holding a panel at the Perinatal Mental Health Society of North America conference on how clinicians can learn more about being involved with advocacy and public policy. Dr. Wisner connected me with Joy Burkhard, the founder and director of 2020 Mom, an organization that closes gaps in access for mom's seeking medical care. Through Joy, I was able to attend the National Coalition for Maternal Mental Federal Lobby Day back in May of 2017 in Washington D.C. That was really my first taste of speaking with lawmakers and staffers about the importance of treating post-partum depression and psychosis – and I was struck by just how much attention they paid to what I had to say as a physician. Moreover, the level of passion and drive of the advocates, many of whom are survivors, was contagious– and I wanted to learn more about how this whole process works.
With all of that in the background, Joy and I co-chaired a panel on State and Federal advocacy for maternal mental health at the 3rd Biennial Perinatal Mental Health Conference held in Chicago at Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine. There is often such a divide between what's going on at a policy level and what we do day to day as clinicians - so our goal in conceiving this panel was to educate physicians and researchers on how they can get involved to advocate for their patients! Our expert panelists were Jamie Zahlaway Belsito of 2020 Mom, Dan Martin JD, Senior Director of Public Policy for the Mental Health Association of Maryland (MHAMD), Dr. Susan Benjamin Feingold, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist and author of Happy Endings, New Beginnings: Navigating Postpartum Disorders, and Barry Lewis JD, a litigation attorney in private practice who presented the brief and his testimony in support of HB 1764 in Illinois. We were also lucky to feature US Congresswoman Katherine Clark, of Massachusetts, speaking via video conference about the Bringing Postpartum Depression Out of the Shadows Act. The bill authorizes the Secretary of Health and Human Services to provide federal grants to states for the purpose of screening, assessing and treating perinatal mood and anxiety disorders - like post-partum depression.
We covered the new and upcoming legislation in California, Maryland and Illinois including the Maryland Task Force to Study Maternal Mental Health, the California Task Force on the Status of Maternal Mental Health Care, and Illinois HB 1764 which considers postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis as “mitigating factors" in sentencing. The panel was a hit - with over 70 clinicians and researchers in attendance! Through this work, I was then able to testify as a Perinatal Psychiatrist for the District of Columbia City Council committee on Health in support of Bill 22-0172, the “Maternal Health Task Force Act of 2017."
All in all, a productive November!