The undertreated problem of depression among new mothers is getting intensified focus at Hennepin Healthcare, which is building a center to support women who are suffering, often in silence, and avert the damage it can cause to them and their families.
Supported by a $10 million gift from the Lynne & Andrew Redleaf Foundation, the Minneapolis-based health care provider unveiled plans on Tuesday for a center that will offer not only treatment and therapy, but also child care for parents during appointments, classroom space and even a kitchen for cooking classes. The idea is to create a sense of community for mothers, whose depression and anxiety can be exacerbated by isolation when they bring their babies home, said Dr. Helen Kim, a Hennepin Healthcare psychiatrist.
“The United States is often a lonely place to have a baby, even in privileged communities with supportive families,” said Kim, who directs Hennepin’s existing Mother-Baby mental health treatment program and will take charge of the new Redleaf Center for Family Healing. “Women often feel alone, disconnected. One of the most enduring risk factors among the mothers that we see is the limited social support.”
Depression and anxiety are two of the most common complications of childbirth, occurring during pregnancy in 20% of women and within the first 12 months after delivery in 12 to 16% of women, according to research estimates. Some advocates believe those numbers are conservative because many women hide their anxieties due to feelings of shame.
While untreated symptoms take a toll on mothers, Kim said they can affect others, including spouses and newborn babies — at critical times in the children’s growth and brain development.
The center will be located in renovated space in HCMC , across from U.S. Bank Stadium, and is scheduled to open in 2020. Kim said the center will provide particular value to low-income mothers who have struggled to attend treatment without child care — but she stressed that perinatal depression and anxiety cut across all racial, ethnic and income lines.
Wealth in some ways has been a barrier to treatment, she said, “because there’s more shame potentially.”
‘Understood the darkness’
Tanja Borchardt of Minnetonka didn’t have any problems following the birth of her son 12 years ago, but after she gave birth to a daughter two years ago, she said, she felt anxious, couldn’t sleep, and was filled with dark thoughts.
She eventually was hospitalized and then went through Mother-Baby’s four-week day treatment program. The acceptance by the therapists and other mothers, she said, made a difference.
“They just understood my situation, they understood the darkness,” she said. “I really didn’t have to describe it, and at the time I really didn’t have the words to describe it.”
Borchardt said the broader social and support offerings of the new center will be valuable, especially the kitchen.
Amid her struggles, Borchardt said she would find herself standing in grocery aisles not knowing what to buy. She could barely text or call other people, much less cook for herself and her kids.
“I had such a hard time preparing a meal for my family,” she said. “You cannot do those basic tasks anymore [when struggling with postpartum depression]. It’s almost a relearning of something that you used to be able to do.”
Kim said the treatment offerings at the new center will be specific to women with postpartum depression, but that other events will be open to parents in general and seek to create community through their shared experiences of raising children.
One of the great joys in her work is seeing children such as Borchardt’s daughter come alive once their mothers are treated for depression or anxiety, Kim said.
At first, she said, “the babies are actually very flat and nonresponsive. By the end, they are smiling, they are reacting. … There is this little light that you didn’t see at the beginning.”