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Mothers' mental health a priority

A recent, highly publicized suicide emphasizes the need for coping aids for mothers.

By RYAN DAVIS

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 4, 2001


LAND O'LAKES -- Pasco County social service agencies want to help pregnant women and mothers suffering from mental health problems, such as the postpartum depression that led to Janet Gifford-Meyers' suicide last month.

"If that serves any purpose at all helpful, it will show the problem to everyone," said board member Rick Hess at Thursday's meeting of the Healthy Start Coalition of Pasco County.

About 35 representatives from Pasco agencies were charged with listing the social service needs for new mothers and mothers-to-be during the meeting at Land O'Lakes Community Center. They also brainstormed the barriers to providing the services.

One of the newest and hottest issues was mental health, which emerged as a priority.

"I think we expect a lot out of mothers today," said John Tschirhart, the coalition's executive director. "They have to be Super Mom. They have to have a career. They have to take care of the baby. And they have to take care of the whole family, too.

"A lot of them can't live up to the expectations."

Thursday's session marked the beginning stages of developing the three-year plan the coalition must submit this summer to the state Department of Health.

The coalition, a private agency that is almost entirely funded by the state, directs services for pregnant women and children up to age 3. Most services are provided through the Pasco County Health Department. Last year about 1,500 families received services.

Any woman is eligible for services, which are determined based on risk factors, such as living conditions, insurance coverage, drug habits and potential domestic violence problems.

In January the coalition contracted for the first time so its clients can receive mental health services, which are provided by a private clinic in New Port Richey, Tschirhart said.

Two months later, the much-publicized suicide of Gifford-Meyers in Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park focused public attention on some of the mental health issues associated with pregnancy. Postpartum depression, a hormonal reaction to birth, is the most common complication associated with child birth, experts said.

While those concerns highlighted the problems that need to be addressed, some of the same troubles lingered.

For example, what is one of the biggest barriers to providing those services?

"Do you just want to make a list that says "transportation, transportation, transportation?" asked Hess, the executive director of the Pasco Family Protection Team.

Inadequate transportation, which prevents pregnant women and others from accessing services, has often been touted as a top problem facing social service agencies in Pasco.

- Ryan Davis covers higher education and social services in Pasco. He can be reached at 800-333-7505 ext. 3452. Discuss this and other issues on our Pasco discussion forums at www.sptimes.com/pascoforum.

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