The L.A. Service Area’s Maternal Mental Health program gives moms a fighting chance with pre and postpartum depression.

People assume that becoming a new mother is thehappiest time in a woman’s life. In reality, one in seven moms experience postpartum depression within a year after giving birth and many of them are reluctant to seek help. Fear of losing their child or being judged a bad mother often prevents them from seeking the support they need during an emotionally and physically stressful point in their lives.

“This is a journey lots of new moms go on,” says Tina Cruz, LMFT, a behavioral health therapist at Facey Medical Group and creator of their maternal mental health program. “Women from every age, income level, race and cultural background can develop postpartum depression or anxiety.”

Cruz leads Facey’s maternal mental health program, which began in Fall 2019 as one-on-one appointments and shifted to 100% telehealth appointments in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. A 10-year veteran of Facey’s behavioral health team, she is bilingual and serves both English and Spanish speaking patients.

“The emphasis is not only on reducing anxiety and depression symptoms, but to empower mamas to build strong and happy families,” says Cruz. “When they first enter therapy, many new moms have feelings of isolation in addition to depression. I do a lot of psycho-education, so they don’t feel so alone.”

While the program is based in Facey’s Mission Hills office, it serves mothers from all of Providence’s Southern California ministries. Telehealth is proving to be a great fit for new moms struggling with sadness or anxiety, or who just want someone to talk to about their new challenges.

It’s also helping to address the issue of patients not being able to connect with a behavioral health provider close to them. Cruz says patients appreciate the convenience, flexibility and ability to care for their babies while getting care they need themselves from the comfort of their own home.

OB/Gyn and primary care providers can refer patients to the program if they feel there is a need based on responses to the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ9), which is used to screen, assist with diagnosis, monitor and measure the severity of depression. In addition to helping reduce their anxiety or depression symptoms, the program teaches coping tools and empowers moms to take control of their self-care. Most patients with moderate or severe symptoms of depression are also supported by their provider with antidepressant medication.

Since its launch in November 2019, the program has cared for over 300 patients. The outcomes have been significant: 45% of patients who connected with Cruz for cognitive behavioral therapy report a 50% or greater reduction in depressive symptoms from their initial baseline PHQ-9 scores. Cruz sees this as just a starting point, even though plans for additional in-person support in a group format have been tabled until it is safe to do so.

“At the most fundamental level, there is more at stake than just a balanced outlook,” says Cruz. “A happy mom
means a happy family.”