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Mental health providers, advocates praise Bartolotta's bill

Herald-Standard - 3/3/2017

SOUTH STRABANE TWP. - During a panel discussion on Thursday, mental health providers and advocates praised state Sen. Camera Bartolotta's bill making postpartum depression an at-risk factor for babies, which would make them eligible for tracking and intervention services.

"This is just an incredible bill," said Dr. Sarah Homitsky, medical director of Women's Behavioral Health at the Allegheny Health Network.

Homitsky and other panelists at the Washington Health System Wilfred R. Cameron Wellness Center said early detection of postpartum depression issues is vital to helping new mothers address the feelings of guilt, inadequacy and loneliness that can devastate their bonds with their babies.

"We need to just keep talking about it to erase the stigma on this issue," said Bartolotta, who moderated the 90-minute discussion.

The panel was organized by the Strong Mom Strong Baby coalition that is backing Bartolotta's bill under the mantle of The Campaign for What Works, a statewide initiative of The Pittsburgh Foundation, United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania, the Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership and the Forbes Funds that promotes human services.

Postpartum depression can harm the mother-baby attachment that is so important in healthy child development, said Stephanie Evans, a mental health specialist with the Pittsburgh-based Alliance for Infants and Toddlers.

"It's a crucial time period," Evans said of a child's development between 6 months and 3 years old.

Bartolotta, R-Carroll Township, and state Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks County, introduced Senate Bill 200 on Jan. 31, and it was referred to the Health and Human Services Committee. Bartolotta has said postpartum depression affects about 21,000 mothers in Pennsylvania each year.

Under the bill, postpartum depression would be placed on the state's list of at-risk factors for babies, such as low birth weight, homelessness, lead poisoning, abuse or neglect and chemically dependent mothers, making them and their mothers eligible for monitoring and intervention services.

Dr. Abigail Schlesinger, clinical director of community-based services for Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC's behavioral science division and medical director of the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC's ambulatory integrated behavioral health service, said most women who seek treatment for postpartum depression are "in remission" in less than a year.

"Treatment of postpartum depression works," she said.

Unfortunately, Schlesinger added that just 15 percent of women suffering from postpartum depression get the help they need partly because of the stigma factor that Bartolotta addressed.

It is imperative, Schlesinger said, that people consider postpartum depression "an illness, a medical condition" similar to any physical ailment that requires treatment rather than something to be ashamed of.

Schlesinger said Bartolotta's bill "just makes sense. Period."

 
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