Collaborating Across Federal Programs to Address Maternal Depression

Patty Marickovich

Kelly was in my office and unsure of what to do. While I, as usual, was in awe of her work as a home visitor, she was stumped. A mom in our Head Start program had a newborn. This should be a joyful time, right? Kelly told me that the mom reported a downturn in her mood, appetite, and general enjoyment in life. It turned out that she was one of many women who experiences post-partum depression. What could we do to help this family?

- Patty Marickovich

When Mark Greenberg, the acting assistant secretary at the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) announced the ACF partnership with the Maternal and Child Health Bureau (MCHB) and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to fund a new National Center of Excellence in Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation, we were excited! In Head Start we have a long history of collaboration with these partners. The new extension of this work at the state level is a logical next step. The focus on mental health is especially exciting given the recent launch of the new National Center for Early Childhood Health and Wellness that provides training and technical assistance on a number of health-related topics, including toxic stress and the mental health of caregivers.

What a great time to draw our attention to a timely and valuable resource available from SAMHSA, the Depression in Mothers: More Than the Blues Toolkit [PDF, 602KB]. Home visitors like Kelly, family service workers, family educators, and other Early Head Start professionals will find it especially useful. The resource may be used during home visits or when working with parents of children who are enrolled in center-based services. This truly is an awesome toolkit, a gift to anyone who works with new parents.

Some of the most useful pages are hidden in the back. If you are not sure how to approach mothers who show signs of depression, look at the resources and handouts in the appendices. They are useful for so many ACF programs, in many different situations. Program personnel can use the fact sheets, brochures, free screening tools, and ideas to help mothers improve their moods and manage stress. Find links to additional sites that provide a wealth of information in English and Spanish. There even is a section to help home visitors encourage a mother to do pleasant activities by herself or with her baby, without cost and that can be done quickly if she is pressed for time.

The introduction to the toolkit says it well: "People who work with mothers with young children are in a position to address a very serious problem that often goes unnoticed. Mothers and their children and families can live better lives if the women realize that they have depression and then get help."

Maternal depression is a widespread health concern that affects the health and well-being of mothers and their families. It isn’t a character flaw or weakness, but can sometimes be a complication of giving birth. This toolkit gives useful information about depression. Family service personnel and home visitors will gain fresh ideas to use daily when helping mothers who may be suffering from depression and their families.

This resource would have been so helpful, back when Kelly was helping the young father understand his feelings and fear that his wife might pack up and leave for no reason. Over the course of several months, Kelly helped the young father understand the signs and symptoms of depression and ways to support his wife during that time. Kelly struggled along with the family, and her efforts led to a happy ending for them.

Take a look at Depression in Mothers: More Than the Blues Toolkit [PDF, 602KB] and make sure it gets into the right hands.

No time? There is not a better time than now.

Patty Marickovich is the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) Coordinator for the Office of Head Start, and Amanda Bryans is the Education and Comprehensive Services Division Director for the Office of Head Start.

Collaborating Across Federal Programs to Address Maternal Depression. HHS/ACF/OHS. 2015. English.

Last Reviewed: November 2015

Last Updated: November 13, 2015