By Annemarie Schumacher Dimech, Co-Founder and President, WBP

Maternal mental health is a topic of utmost importance, which is affected by a combination of some aspects of it being a taboo as well as a lack of research. Furthermore, in times of COVID-19, maternal mental health is facing additional challenges given the frequent social isolation which may affect women’s access to their social support networks both pre- and post-birth, and reduced availability of some types of medical support.

In some cases, the support available may be virtual, which not everyone is comfortable with. Furthermore, in certain circumstances and with certain conditions, the human touch and the direct interaction are essential for successful patient outcomes. For instance, there is a study showing how the touch of an unknown person can relieve pain.

In this panel, we will explore what the existing maternal mental health challenges are – including COVID-19 related ones – for better treatment, and actions that can be taken to remedy them.

Maternal mental health is a term that applies during pregnancy, labor, and thereafter.

Panel 2: Maternal Mental Health – Speakers

Dr. Chowdhary, a psychiatrist with the World Health Organization (WHO), will focus on the international situation related to maternal mental health and WHO’s strategies for promotion of psychosocial well-being, prevention and promotion of mental disorders of mothers during pregnancy and after delivery. In particular, Dr. Chowdhary will talk about the situation in developing countries where the rate of post-partum depression is significantly higher than in high-income countries.

Building on her participation in last year’s Forum, Dr. Jennifer Payne, Director of the Women’s Mood Disorders Center, and Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins University will highlight a very important issue in women’s mental health: the lack of knowledge in the management and treatment of psychiatric illness during pregnancy. Maternal mental health is not only about post-partum depression. It is also about taking care of women’s mental health (including existing illnesses) when they become mothers. There is so much more to say about this issue and there is much that WBP can do and highlight for more research and better treatment. In her presentation, Dr. Payne will talk about the current situation regarding pharmacotherapy and management of pre-existing psychiatric illness during pregnancy and what needs to be addressed.

Professor Louise Howard is a Professor in Women’s Mental Health at King’s College London and an Honorary Consultant Perinatal Psychiatrist at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust. She was awarded a prestigious NIHR Research Professorship in 2013 and became an NIHR Senior Investigator in 2019. She is President-elect of the International Marcé Society. Prof. Howard will talk about risk factors/characteristics of mental disorders in the perinatal phase and implications for effective prevention strategies.

Franka Cadée is an expert on Midwifery and an advisor on international maternal health, with over 30 years of strategy and policy developments, advocacy, leadership, project management and partnership. She is the current President of the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM). Ideally, this speaker would focus on the importance of all women having access to a midwife and how the experience of pregnancy and birth (including the support made available) affects the mother’s mental health. Midwives can also be vital in identifying the first signs of post-partum depression or other mental illnesses. Lack of such support could act as a risk factor for mental diseases. Ms. Cadée will talk about the important role of midwives in the interdisciplinary team for identifying and managing psychiatric illnesses in the perinatal phase.

Maternal mental health is a term that applies during pregnancy, labor, and thereafter.

The Moderator

This panel will be moderated by Clare O’Dea, author and journalist, representing the Forum Media Partner SwissInfo. Originally from Ireland, Clare’s work as a journalist spans three countries and more than two decades.

To find out more about this panel as it continues to take shape, or to participate in the conversation, follow us on social media under @womensbrainpro or register now for the International Forum on Women’s Brain and Mental Health if you have not yet done so! The Forum will offer registered participants pre-recorded talks and keynotes in addition to virtual interactive discussions by experts taking place on September 19-20, 2020.

Photography credit for all 3 images: Pixabay

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