Watch This Legislation — It's Important

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While Americans have been focused on bailouts, plummeting stocks, layoffs, foreclosures and President Barack Obama’s health care proposals, Congress has been considering the Melanie Blocker-Stokes Postpartum Depression Research and Care Act, or the “Mothers Act.” It is proposed legislation of which everyone should make themselves aware.

At first glance it seems innocuous and even helpful, promising national resources for pregnant women and those who have just delivered babies to find mental health help in dealing with postpartum depression (PPD) or postpartum psychosis. It came about as the result of the suicide of Melanie Blocker-Stokes, who suffered postpartum psychosis after the birth of her daughter in 2001 and ended up leaping off a building in Chicago when her baby was 3 months old.

The legislation has sparked heated responses on both sides, with supporters wondering who could oppose providing help to struggling families and opponents warning that it will result in pregnant women and new mothers being placed on antidepressants and psychotropic drugs when the source of their problems often stem from wildly fluctuating hormones. Time magazine reports “Studies suggest that PPD affects as many as 1 out of 7 mothers,” Postpartum psychosis, a much more dangerous condition, affects one in 1,000 women, according to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. By most accounts, however, both conditions are understudied.

As with lots of well-meaning legislation, it appears there could be deep pitfalls if the Mothers Act leads to mandatory screening women for postpartum depression,which is the case in the New Jersey law on which the Mothers Act is based, and in the response to women who ask for help. Watch this disconcerting video of Amy Philo’s experience with the New Jersey Law, which was introduced by that state’s Senate President Richard Codey after his wife Mary Jo Codey suffered PPD.

After her experiences, Philo founded UniteForLife.org and has become an outspoken critic of the Mothers Act. For her efforts, the Citizens’ Commission on Human Rights gave her its 2008 Human Rights Award.

This is an important issue that warrants more research on the necessity and wisdom of the legislation being considered by Congress, as well as treatment options and the long-term effects of antidepressants and psychotropic medications for both mothers and their babies. Lawmakers also need to be cautious about including mandatory screening in the law and making sure that if they do, there are adequate resources (i.e. trained professionals) to handle the screenings and any resulting demands for treatment. Google “Mothers Act” and read the pros and cons for yourself as well as the experience of women who have been screened or have turned to help lines.

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