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Task force urged: Include moms when addressing mental health issues

DULUTH -- During a day devoted to Minnesota's mental health needs, a St. Louis County public health nurse had a plea for a 15-member state task force: Don't forget the moms.

DULUTH -- During a day devoted to Minnesota’s mental health needs, a St. Louis County public health nurse had a plea for a 15-member state task force: Don’t forget the moms.

“Our providers can offer a safe space for women to go and seek help, rather than feeling shame, or thinking that feeling badly is just the norm after having a baby,” Rebecca Paulson told the group seated at long tables in the auditorium at Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Medical Center in Duluth. “Every woman deserves to enjoy her postpartum period.”

The task force, chaired by Department of Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper, was appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton during the summer with a mandate to recommend specific solutions to a litany of mental health challenges in the state.

Those challenges have been well-documented. Among them: emergency rooms overrun with patients who have mental health and behavioral health issues; hospital psychiatric units designed for short-term care holding patients for upwards of 200 days; and psychiatric patients cared for far from home because no beds are available closer.

Monday’s daylong meeting was the group’s fourth, Piper said, and the first outside of the Twin Cities. Future meetings are planned in Cambridge and possibly in Rochester.

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Paulson was the last person to testify during a day that included such topics as inpatient psychiatric bed capacity, crisis services and a presentation by the Duluth Mental Health Task Force.

The passion was evident in Paulson’s voice even as she read from a script on her laptop. All women should be screened during pregnancy and after giving birth for depression and/or anxiety, she said. As a public health nurse, she said, she often sees low-income women who may get less care but statistically have greater chances of suffering from depression.

She told about an upcoming Mothers and Babies program, funded by the Miller-Dwan Foundation and the Northland Foundation, that will bring experts to train about 40 area professionals on intervention to address postpartum depression.

In an interview a short time later, Piper teared up when reflecting on Paulson’s words.

“It was so powerful when she was talking about (the fact) that women are more likely to suffer depression, and postpartum depression after they have a baby, if they’re low-income,” Piper said. “And I thought: Well, of course. Of course. Because with everything else that’s going on in your life to layer (lack of) income and security on top of that ... as you’re holding a brand new baby, I can’t think of something that would be more trying for a new mom.”

Piper, a mother of four, said she had experienced “postpartum issues” herself that she wasn’t screened for and that weren’t really addressed.

“So just on a personal level it’s very exciting to hear really innovative things that people are doing in that area, because it touches so many women across the state,” she said.

Piper said she’s optimistic about the state addressing its mental health challenges overall because there’s a unified effort to meet those challenges.  

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“One of the really nice things and wonderful things about mental health in the state of Minnesota is everybody’s trying to row in the right direction, the same direction,” Piper said.

Online

Minnesota Governor’s Task Force on Mental Health: mn.gov/dhs/mental-health-tf

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