The state government has screened more than 10,000 pregnant women/new mothers for mental health issues over the last eight months. The number includes 8,183 ante-natal and 2,334 post-natal screening for depression, anxiety, psychosis and suicidal thoughts, among other problems.
The district mental health programme was launched in 2016 itself in a full-fledged manner. However, screening of pregnant women for mental health issues began in April 2021 when the second wave of the Covid pandemic had set in.
Around 140 staff including psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and nurses are involved in the programme. As many as 42,000 Accredited Social Health Workers (Asha workers) have been trained to act as first responders and detect tell-tale signs of mental health problems. “During pregnancy and post-pregnancy period, there are a lot of physical and hormonal changes in women. Around 7% to 20 per cent of them have a chance of slipping into postpartum depression, which is why we want to screen all pregnant women. The idea is early detection, counselling and treatment so that the mental well being of the mother can be improved,” said Dr Rajani Parthasarathy, Deputy Director, Mental Health, Department of Health and Family Welfare.
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Parthasarathy said the first 1,000 days of the baby’s life are most important and maternal well-being is interlinked with the infant’s well-being. Mothers who come for antenatal checkups are posed with questions about past history of mental illness and asked if they’re currently suffering from constant worry, sadness, and anxiety of late.
Gradually, the state plans to ask private hospitals also to ask similar questions and undertake peri-natal screening.
Dr Hema Divakar, former president of Federation of Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India, said, “Unless it is a multispecialty hospital, private hospitals may not have the luxury of referring to a psychiatrist. Instead of a mere recommendation by the government, if they’re planning to issue one, the better way to go about it is sensitisation and capacity building. Single speciality hospitals, nursing homes and clinics may not be equipped to sense the signs even if they see one in women.”
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