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Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has signed a bill designed to provide support for women facing maternal depression during pregnancy and following childbirth. The new law will provide educational services, as well as promote screening and treatment for maternal depression disorders.

“Maternal depression is a serious condition that impacts families of all backgrounds, but today we are tackling the issue head-on with a new law that will improve services and increase awareness across the State,” Governor Cuomo said. “This legislation better equips our healthcare system to recognize and treat maternal depression, helping families statewide to better detect and treat this condition. I thank the bill sponsors for their hard work and leadership on this important issue, and I am proud to sign it into law today.”

Despite the widespread nature and severity of maternal depression, the State’’s healthcare system currently has had no system-wide screening and referral procedure for postpartum depression. The new law (S. 7234B / A. 9610B) provides information and guidelines on maternal depression screening; information on follow-up support and referrals; and public education to promote awareness of and de-stigmatize maternal depression. In addition, the legislation is intended to ensure that New Yorkers are informed of the public health services that will help them understand, identify and treat maternal depression.

Maternal depression is broadly defined as a wide range of emotional and psychological reactions a woman may experience during pregnancy or after childbirth. Each year, approximately ten to fifteen percent of all mothers develop postpartum depression. Postpartum psychosis, the most severe form of maternal depression, often includes auditory hallucinations and delusions, and in some cases visual hallucinations. Women whose maternal depression is severe enough to be considered postpartum psychosis have a five percent suicide rate and four percent infanticide rate.

Often, the symptoms of maternal depression are not immediately identified because they resemble those generally associated with pregnancy. As a result, maternal depression is sometimes left untreated, and may result in a detrimental impact on the entire family, especially the newborn and other children in the family. In addition, maternal depression is often undetected and untreated by maternal health care providers due to both lack of training in identifying the condition and lack of support both professionally and financially, as well as concerns about the availability of treatment options and coverage identified with maternal depression.

Early screening and identification of postpartum depression has an eighty to ninety percent success rate and offers long-term health care costs savings. Women typically visit their obstetrician and gynecologist during pregnancy and visit the pediatrician for their infant’’s check-ups more often than they would any other health professional. Therefore, these maternal health care providers are in an ideal position to screen women for maternal depression.
Senator Liz Krueger said, “Many new parents and families aren’t aware of just how common maternal depression is, and too often cases go untreated with new mothers and families needlessly suffering,” said. “This bill will spur greater awareness, early detection, and treatment of maternal depression. Governor Cuomo has my deepest thanks for signing this important legislation today.”

Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried said, “A key element of the bill is recognizing that the newborn’s pediatrician can have an important role in identifying maternal depression. Early screening for postpartum depression is effective for families and offers long-term emotional benefits and health care cost savings.”

Dr. Judy A. Greene, MD, Director of Women’’s Mental Health and Training Director for the Reproductive Psychiatry Fellowship at Bellevue Hospital Center, said, "There is a growing evidence base supporting early detection and treatment of perinatal mood disorders. Clinically, we see excellent outcomes when women receive appropriate mental health treatment; ultimately benefiting the mother, the infant, and the entire family."

Sonia Murdock, executive director and co-founder of the Postpartum Resource Center of New York, said, "The signing into law of this maternal depression legislation is an historic step for the health and safety of New York’’s mothers, babies, and families. Thank you to Governor Cuomo for recognizing the critical importance of addressing maternal mental health to save lives and build healthy families for vibrant communities."

Dr. Ellen Landsberger, MD, MS, American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) Fellow and Associate Professor of Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology and Women’s Health at the Jack D. Weiler Hospital of Albert Einstein College of Medicine, said, "Screening for, diagnosing, and treating depression have the potential to benefit a woman and her family. Pregnancy and the postpartum period represent an ideal time during which consistent contact with health care professionals will allow women at risk to be identified and treated. Women with current depression or a history of major depression warrant particularly close monitoring and evaluation."

Donna Montalto, Executive Director of ACOG District II, said, “ACOG District II congratulates state policy makers for their strong effort to break down the barriers to prenatal and postpartum depression screening and treatment. For decades ACOG has worked to offer relevant provider education including depression screening tools, assessment and management strategies, pharmacologic charts and relevant patient resources. This legislation will go a long way toward furthering our mutual goal of standardizing the implementation of routine depression screening and treatment in women’s health care practice.”

Dr. Danielle Laraque, MD, FAAP, New York State AAP Chair, said, “Most new mothers visit the pediatrician for their infant’s check-ups and health/sick visits more often than they would visit any other health professional in the year after the birth of their child. Therefore, it makes sense to create a process for pediatricians to screen and refer new mothers who may be struggling with postpartum depression. Early screening and identification of maternal depression has an 80 to 90 percent success rate and offers long-term health care costs savings. It also helps support healthy child development and addresses issues of early childhood mental health challenges.”

Deborah, Ron, and Karen Wachenheim (Family of Cindy Wachenheim), said, “Our family will feel the pain of losing Cindy for the rest of our lives. Our hope is that this law will help prevent other families from needlessly losing a loved one by educating them about maternal depression and mood disorders so they can recognize the signs and access appropriate and effective treatment."

Paige Bellenbaum, postpartum depression survivor and advocate on the issue, said, “I suffered from severe postpartum depression with my first child, and even as a social worker who is trained to recognize mental illness symptoms, I had no idea what was wrong with me or where to go for help. I felt ashamed and embarrassed. This debilitating condition nearly cost me my life. Eight years later, after much advocacy and involvement with this bill, I am overjoyed to learn that the Governor has signed it into law. In doing so, Governor Cuomo confirms his commitment to ensuring that all at-risk women have the best chance possible of being diagnosed, getting the help they need, and recovering through increased education, screening and treatment of perinatal mood disorders, as I did."