A mental health hotline for new and expecting parents received more than 12,000 calls and texts in its first year, with a surge in January after Massachusetts mother Lindsay Clancy allegedly killed her children, data shared for the first time with NBC News.
The federally funded National Maternal Mental Health Hotline launched last Mother’s Day and is averaging about 1,000 interactions per month, said a spokesman for the Department of Health’s Health Resources and Services Administration. and Human Services.
The HRSA spokesperson said the average number of daily calls and text messages to the free and confidential hotline increased by 73% in the week after Clancy allegedly strangled her three young children and attempted suicide on January 24 in his home in Duxbury, Massachusetts. . Clancy’s attorney says she had postpartum depression and possibly postpartum psychosis at the time.
When her case hit national headlines, the hotline received calls from stunned mothers and people they knew who were concerned about mothers.
“One of the first things we had to do was just say, ‘Yeah, this is really scary and it’s hard,’” said hotline counselor Shanna Williams, a doula, lactation counselor and perinatal mental health therapist based in in Pennsylvania. “’But it is important to know that there is help out therethat this is not something that is a common experience for people.’”
The first hotline of its kind operates 24/7 providing support before, during and after pregnancy. Postpartum depression occurs in about 1 in 8 mothers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sayswhile postpartum anxiety affects about 1 in 10, according to Postpartum Support International.
Postpartum psychosis, for its part, occurs in 1 or 2 of every 1,000 deliveries, according to Postpartum Support International. The rare condition can involve hallucinations that alter people’s sense of reality after childbirth, sometimes leading them to harm themselves or their children, and is considered a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment.
The hotline is part of a larger effort by Vice President Kamala Harris to improve maternal health and equity in the United States, which has the highest maternal mortality rate among the rich industrialized countries.
“Every mother or mother-to-be, across our nation, should have access to the help and support they need to stay healthy,” Harris said in a statement first shared with NBC News.
The top reasons people called the hotline over the past year were depression, anxiety and feeling overwhelmed, HRSA data showed. Phone calls accounted for about 70% of hotline interactions, while text messages accounted for about 30%.
All statistics were based on hotline interactions as of March 31, the most current data available, the HRSA spokesperson said; at the time, the number of calls and texts was just under 12,000 total.
In addition to pregnant people and new parents, including dads, the hotline welcomes people who have miscarried or lost babies. Callers are connected to a counselor in an average of less than 30 seconds, the HRSA spokesman said.
Officials hope to reduce wait times by increasing staffing using part of the $7 million that Congress assigned the hotline for fiscal year 2023.
It currently has more than three dozen people answering calls, including nurses, doulas and lactation consultants, said Wendy Davis, executive director of the National Maternal Mental Health Hotline and chief executive of Postpartum Support International.
Davis said she had postpartum depression and anxiety after giving birth to her first child in 1994. At the time, she didn’t know her symptoms were temporary and treatable.
“I thought I was failing, I was terrified and isolated,” she said. «She had no recourse.»
Williams said the calls come in at all hours, even in the middle of the night, from mothers who are breastfeeding or suffering from insomnia. The calls last from a few minutes to more than 45 minutes, she said.
Among the people she and other counselors have helped include pregnant women who have decided to leave an abusive partner; women with a history of trauma whose anxiety has increased during pregnancy; and moms who call while pumping because it’s the only time they have a moment to themselves.
Hormonal changes, a history of mental health problems and the psychological change of becoming a parent can all contribute to perinatal mood disorders, which are those that occur during pregnancy and up to a year after, said Dr. Nancy Byatt , professor of psychiatry at UMass. Chan Medical School and CEO of the university Lifeline Center for Families and Lifeline Program for Moms. Disparities in detection and access to psychiatric treatment may also play a role.
These mood disorders are often compounded by the common myth that having a new baby is supposed to be a time of pure joy, Byatt added.
«Our society expects this kind of idealized image of what can happen during pregnancy and postpartum.»
— Dr. Nancy Byatt, professor of psychiatry at UMass Chan School of Medicine
“Our society expects this kind of romanticized image of what can happen during pregnancy and postpartum,” she said. «The reality is that even if someone doesn’t experience postpartum depression, it’s always a challenge to have a baby.»
Addressing two national crises
Officials say the hotline is addressing dual crises. In addition to a recent increase in mental health problems, including maternal mental health America has long had an abysmal maternal mortality rate that disproportionately affects blacks.
The issues are interconnected, the data shows: Mental health conditions were the leading underlying cause of pregnancy-related deaths in the US between 2017 and 2019, According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The connection offered by the hotline is especially critical for people in maternity care desertssaid Dr. Michael Warren, associate administrator for the HHS Health Resources and Services Administration’s Office of Maternal and Child Health. TO March of Dimes nonprofit report found that more than 2.2 million women of childbearing age live in more than 1,100 US counties without hospitals or birthing centers offering obstetric care, and that nearly 150,000 babies were born there.
Residents in areas with extensive maternity care can also benefit from the hotline, Warren said.
“The hotline gives them another avenue to be able to talk to someone confidentially,” he said, adding that one of the resources the hotline offers is connecting callers with a home visiting program that aims to improve the health of mothers and their children. their children.
The hotline also provides recommendations for individual and group therapy.
Those kinds of ongoing services are often necessary for women struggling with perinatal mental health issues, said Dr. Atul Gawande, assistant administrator for global health at the US Agency for International Development. He is not involved in the maternal health hotline.
“Call centers are not enough to solve this problem: you have to have a relationship with caregivers and in the community that allows you not to get lost in the system,” Gawande said.
In the future, the hotline will have a new number that staff hope will be easier to remember in times of crisis: 1-833-TLC-MAMA. Your existing number will continue to work for one year.
The hotline is not intended to be an emergency response line for suicidal ideation or intimate partner violence. These callers are referred to places like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline that can offer more intensive and immediate support, Williams said.
But the Maternal Mental Health Hotline welcomes any inquiries, Davis said, adding that you don’t need a diagnosis to reach out.
“The most important thing for people to know is that they are not alone,” he said. “There is help and there is hope, at any time of the day or night.”
If you are pregnant or a new mother and you are in crisis, the National Maternal Mental Health Hotline provides free and confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in English and Spanish. Call or text the hotline at 1-833-TLC-MAMA (1-833-852-6262).
If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741, or visit TalkingSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.