New APA & CDC Toolkit for Maternal Mental Health and Substance Use

By the Policy Center for Maternal Mental Health Programs Team

The American Psychiatric Association (APA), with support from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Foundation, has created a new Perinatal Mental Health Toolkit.

The toolkit was a result of a larger initiative to gauge psychiatrists’ and other mental health clinicians’ experience with and attitudes around treating pregnant women with mental and substance use disorders and identify training gaps.

The initiative, titled Mental Health Needs Assessment in the Management of Perinatal Psychiatric Disorders, involved focus groups of women with mental and substance use disorders before, during, or up to two years post-pregnancy and surveyed and held focus groups and a panel discussion with mental health professionals who treat pregnant and postpartum women. (The Policy Center supported the development of these surveys and focus groups).

Insights into training gaps and practice barriers were solicited from training institutions and boards as well.

The results of these investigations informed the development of the toolkit, which includes eight factsheets for clinicians and patients, a white paper, and a four-part webinar series covering this understudied and underserved area of mental health.

We were pleased to see the toolkit focus on the intersection of maternal mental health and substance use disorders (SUDs) in a substantive way. Both maternal mental health (MMH) disorders and substance use disorders (SUDs) together form the leading underlying cause of maternal mortality. 

The white paper covers topics such as the epidemiology and biology of these disorders, pharmacological and non-pharmacological interventions, recommendations for training curricula for mental health professionals, and considerations for certain vulnerable populations.

The four-part webinar series delves deeper into the complexities of maternal mental health with a comprehensive overview of the latest research, trends, and best practices in perinatal mental health and substance use disorders. One webinar discusses the individual needs of vulnerable and underserved populations when addressing MMH and SUDs. The webinar highlights disparities in mental health care for a spectrum of populations, including adolescents, sexual and gender minority persons, incarcerated individuals, refugees, and immigrants, persons experiencing infertility or pregnancy loss, and those experiencing intimate personal violence. 

The Lifeline for Moms Perinatal Mental Health Toolkit was released in 2019, the first maternal mental health toolkit of its kind in the United States. It was developed by Massachusetts Child Psychiatry Acess Program (MCPAP) for Moms Program (funded by the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health) in conjunction with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) with funding from the CDC and CDC Foundation. Important highlights from the Lifeline for Moms toolkit include clinical insight into how frontline providers like OB/GYNs and Midwives can properly screen and assess for common maternal mental health disorders and conditions. 

Both toolkits contain important resources for patients to utilize when planning for pregnancy or to self-advocate for adequate care during pregnancy and the postpartum period. 

At the Policy Center, we believe: 

  • Obstetricians and midwives play a foundational role in identifying and addressing maternal mental health disorders, just as they would any other biological disorder.
  • Psychiatrists and other psychiatric prescribers must be positioned to support them and to support patients with complex needs directly. 
  • Mental Health practitioners must also be prepared to treat those with maternal mental health disorders. 

By implementing these toolkits, providers will ultimately improve the maternal mental health landscape. The toolkit not only enhances the quality of care provided but also supports the emotional well-being of mothers, contributing to healthier families and a more compassionate society.