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CHAMP for Moms Addressing New Mothers’ Mental Health Challenges

By Annie Oeth

UMMC communications

The team behind CHAMP for Moms include, back row from left, Rocky Khanna, project manager; Brooke Guyton, licensed professional counselor; Dr. David Elkin, Center for Advancement of Youth executive director; Henry Moore, peer specialist with Families As Allies and Region 9 MAP Team coordinator; Dr. Barbara Saunders, division chief; Aurea Toledo-Dunham, researcher; front, Dr. Philip Merideth, professor; Jacquelynn Taylor; Gigi Holder, licensed clinical social worker; Heather Boyd, supervisor and licensed professional counselor; Adri McHan, provisionally licensed professional counselor; and Dr. Dustin Sarver, associate professor and principal investigator.

Pregnancy and childbirth can trigger a spectrum of emotions, ranging from excitement and joy to sadness and anxiety. 

To help mothers cope before and after the birth of their children, the Child Access to Mental Health and Psychiatry (CHAMP) program at the University of Mississippi Medical Center is launching CHAMP for Moms. 

A five-year $3.75 million grant from the U.S. Health Resources Services Administration and a $300,000 Empowering Health grant from UnitedHealthcare are funding the program, which will give the state’s pediatricians, obstetricians and gynecologists access to UMMC mental health professionals to address mothers’ perinatal and postnatal mental health challenges. The care is provided via telehealth from a baby’s pediatric visit or a mother’s perinatal or postpartum visits to her OB-GYN. 

“UnitedHealthcare is honored to support the important work these local organizations are doing to provide greater access to services for underserved communities in Mississippi,” said Michael Parnell, CEO, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Mississippi. “Social and economic factors continue to have a significant impact on achieving and maintaining good health. These grants enable us to work closely with our community partners and to be there for what matters in addressing social determinants of health for their residents.” 

Dr. Dustin Sarver, principal investigator of the project, an associate professor and a clinical child psychologist, said the grant is helping to provide a needed resource to mothers and their healthcare providers in the state. 

“By having CHAMP for Moms available in Mississippi, this means women and their children have gained another needed service that meets them where they are throughout the state,” he said. “It also enables maternity providers to gain skills in the early identification of perinatal mental health concerns and to learn how to address and provide resources to pregnant and postpartum mothers. By supporting mothers and their providers, we know we will have powerful and long-lasting impacts on children.” 

Gigi Holder, a licensed clinical social worker at UMMC’s Center for Advancement of Youth, said CHAMP for Moms provides help quickly. 

“CHAMP for Moms also helps to widen the scope of getting mental health care to mothers because it allows their child’s primary care provider, who also has the most contact with the mother, to respond to any concerns right then and there,” she said. “The provider can then call CHAMP for Moms and gain real-time assistance and guidance on how to get mothers connected to services in their area.” 

CHAMP was started as a pilot project in 2018 by the University of Mississippi Medical Center, the Mississippi Department of Mental Health and Families as Allies through a $2.3 million federal cooperative agreement with the Health Resources Services Administration. 

Originally started to link pediatric care providers around underserved areas of the Mississippi Delta as well as in the Jackson metro area, CHAMP now covers every county in the state. Expanding into perinatal and postpartum mental health care via telehealth is the next step in helping families, Holder said. 

Mississippi has the lowest number of psychiatrists per capita in the nation and the third-lowest ratio of behavioral health professionals to primary care providers. Of Mississippi’s 82 counties, 45 do not have a single practicing psychiatrist or psychologist. 

One of the most common mental health issues for women during and after pregnancy is depression. About one out of every eight mothers experiences postpartum depression after having a baby, the National Institutes of Health reports. 

Similar programs are being created in other states. “There are currently seven other perinatal mental health access programs in the U.S., in Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, Rhode Island and Vermont,” Sarver said. “These are funded through HRSA’s Maternal Depression and Related Behavioral Disorders program. We have an application under review with this program to hopefully expand it out even further across the state.” 

Anxiety and a feeling of being overwhelmed are also common, said Dr. Carolita Heritage, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Brookhaven OB-GYN Associates. 

“It’s important for mothers to get treatment,” Heritage said. “It’s not just that depression or anxiety affect daily life now but that, if they do not get treatment, these conditions can get worse over time.” 

Once she learned about CHAMP for Moms, “I wanted to help get it off the ground,” Heritage said. “This is a wonderful resource for OB-GYNs and their patients.” 

Symptoms of depression and anxiety include extreme sadness or anger without warning, having trouble completing tasks, feeling anxiety around the baby and their other children, and feeling as if they are failing as a parent. Another sign of mental health issues is having little interest in things that were once enjoyed and experiencing scary or upsetting thoughts that won’t go away. 

“Post-partum depression can range from feeling a little down to severe depression that requires close monitoring,” she said. 

Dr. Courtney Walker, assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior and clinical psychologist, said she thinks the frequency of post-partum depression is underreported. 

“I take that number with a grain of salt because there is still a lot of stigma attached to experiencing post-partum depression. Those who have it may feel like a bad mother or an unfit parent and not seek treatment.” 

Those who have had symptoms of depression or anxiety before becoming pregnant may have a higher risk of having those symptoms during and after pregnancy, Walker said. 

“If you think you might be at increased risk, plan for it,” she said. “A post-partum mental health care plan may include how you’ll get the sleep you need, the support network you’ll have, and putting the National Maternal Mental Health Hotline (1-833-TLC-MAMA), the Suicide and Crisis Hotline (988), and the Post-Partum Support International hotline (1-800-944-4773) in your phone just in case.” 

Nationally, suicide accounts for 20 percent of postpartum deaths, Walker said. 

“Currently, we are in the promotional phase of letting providers across the state know that this is a new service available to them,” Sarver said. “We will be providing mental health consultations to help with the screening, identification, treatment through therapy and medication, and resource referral of any perinatal mental health condition while the mom is pregnant or postpartum.”

Common conditions will be anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety and OCD before or after the birth of a child, depression, trauma, attachment or bonding difficulties, or loss of a pregnancy or baby. 

Providers who treat patients for perinatal/postnatal mental health concerns can contact CHAMP for Moms at 601-984-2080. The call line is for non-urgent matters and offers peer-to-peer consultation for providers as well as access to resources and referral options throughout the state.


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