New Alaska partnership plans to increase education surrounding maternal mental health
A children’s play set sits empty on a cloudy day in Anchorage. Better access to educational resources might help parents and children engage with their communities. (Photo by Sophia Carlisle/Alaska Beacon)
A new partnership between Alaska organizations and a recently founded initiative, Moms Matter Now, wants to help pregnant people and mothers of young children at risk of mental health struggles. The partnership is offering a series of online courses for expecting and existing mothers to teach them how to be better equipped for the challenges of parenthood.
Holly Brooks and Calisa Kastning were inspired to form Moms Matter Now after discussing their own struggles with becoming mothers and seeing the challenges that parents faced during the pandemic. Brooks said that disparities between domestic labor rose during Covid-19, with mothers taking the brunt of the housework. Add on the already stressful experiences of parenthood, and risks for depression, anxiety and other mood disorders are high, Brooks said.
“[Motherhood] can be a joyous time for a lot of people, but it’s also a hard time,” said Brooks, who is a licensed professional counselor. “There are a lot of women and birthing people out there suffering in silence when they shouldn’t.”
Brooks’ and Kastning’s organization is trying to change that with their online learning materials. Over the next year, Moms Matter Now plans to educate parents on the often harsh realities of motherhood through grant-supported courses. These materials cover topics like ambivalence towards parenting, postpartum depression and anxiety, and the significant hormone changes that occur before and after pregnancy, known as matrescence.
The effort comes at a time when mothers’ mental health has gained the attention of policymakers, concerned about the state’s high maternal death rate.
The program provides these materials to 250 participants who will be awarded $25 gift cards toward the beginning of the course and upon completing the course. Brooks said that she hopes the financial benefit will help those most at risk of pregnancy and parenting struggles successfully get through the course. She said that the course represents an opportunity for upstream prevention.
“We see our course as a prevention intervention,” Brooks said.
That prevention is aimed at people at risk, but what counts as at risk is broad. Brooks said that she wants the course to be as inclusive as possible so that it can reach people who are struggling with everything from perinatal mood disorder to substance misuse.
The program was funded by the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority and Recover Alaska.
Tiffany Hall is the executive director of Recover Alaska, which is an organization working to lessen the harmful effects of alcohol in the state. She said that while the course was not designed to help people understand the impacts of alcohol on pregnancy, she hopes that greater access to educational materials might help mitigate some of the problems associated with it.
“I think it’s so empowering and helpful what they’re doing with Moms Matter Now,” Hall said. “And I just have to believe that it will help with our alcohol issues around pregnancy and parenthood even if that’s not specifically why it was created.”
Providing greater access to education surrounding pregnancy and parenthood-related issues is important, according to Brooks. Even if it’s something as seemingly mundane as body-image issues, which the course also addresses. Brooks said this education could lead to new parents seeking support, which is important in establishing sufficient maternal health for all.
The Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority’s Katie Baldwin-Johnson agreed: “The earlier we can recognize and support maternal mental health needs, the better for parents and kids.” Baldwin-Johnson is the chief operating officer for the authority and was enthusiastic about the partnership between her organization and Moms Matter Now.
So was Brooks. She said that support from Alaskan organizations meant more support for parents who needed it.
“Maternal mental health matters,” Brooks said. “Moms and birthing people are not just vessels for children, but they’re people too.”
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