According to the American Psychological Association, almost 15 percent of moms suffer from a postpartum mood disorder like anxiety or depression, making maternal mental health concerns the most common complication of childbirth in the U.S. And even though these mental illnesses affect millions of women each year, new research shows 20 percent of mothers don’t disclose their symptoms to healthcare providers.
“Many women feel hesitant discussing their emotional difficulties, especially when they’re experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety,” says Sarah Checcone, founder and director of The Postpartum Society of Florida. The Sarasota-based non-profit organization is testing out a new way to support struggling mothers and their families by offering a mother-to-mother mentorship program known as SISTER (Self-Image Support Team and Emotional Resource).
Volunteers are mothers who’ve recovered from a maternal mental illness, as well as those impacted by a friend or family member’s postpartum challenges. Sister moms seek to build community, creating a safe space. And that just might help women to open up about their difficulties.
As survivors of postpartum mood disorders, sister moms are in a unique position to mentor new moms. They share their personal stories and reassure these new mothers that they’re not alone and not to blame for their illnesses. They connect with their mentees via telephone or text weekly and meet face-to-face at least once a month. When needed, sister moms also help women find additional psychological resources, like psychotherapy, psychiatry, and support groups.
Resilience research shows peer-based programs like these can bolster a woman’s mental health. A recent review, published in the journal Child Development, suggests distressed mothers may benefit from ongoing nurturing, especially from those in similar situations. The researchers also found that support from peers and tending to a mother’s well-being increases positive parenting behaviors, especially when these supports are integrated into a woman’s daily life.
Links to Resource:
- Learn more about the mother-to-mother SISTER program
- Read more about the evidence-base behind the program at TPR.org
- Download the SISTER program information sheet (docx)
- Read the recent study published in the journal Maternal and Child Health that found social support affects a mother’s likelihood of reaching out for professional help