Maternal Mental Health Advocacy Project

2015 Public Policy & Advocacy

Maternal Mental Health

The Junior Leagues of California State Public Affairs Committee 

The first award in Public Policy & Advocacy to the Junior Leagues of California State Public Affairs Committee for its Maternal Mental Health Advocacy Project, which it began five years ago.

The 34 delegates from 17 member Leagues representing the more than 10,000 women of Cal-SPAC conceived of and implemented a long-range plan to broaden awareness and secure state-wide legislation to de-stigmatize women’s mental health. Their focus? The pregnancy and post-partum-related disorders that can affect up to 21 percent of women and their families by way of untreated or undiagnosed depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and, in very rare instances, psychosis, infanticide and suicide.

There were many components to Cal-SPAC’s initiative, which ultimately resulted in the passage of three different bills. It kicked off with the highly successful “Speak Up When You’re Down” campaign, which raised public awareness of the psychological difficulties of new motherhood via social media, billboards, PSAs, community forums, and a distribution of informative collateral materials. The campaign led to the designation of the month of May as “Perinatal Depression Awareness Month” and inspired a start-up grant for the California Maternal Mental Health Collaborative, a nonprofit the Maternal Mental Health Advocacy Project established for administrative advocacy.

Other outcomes of the initiative include the creation of the Commission on the Status of Maternal Mental Health Care and the investment of resources by health care stakeholders in the education of women about perinatal depression risk factors and triggers. In addition, breakthrough alliances led to the formation of the National Coalition for Maternal Mental Health, which convenes nonprofits around the country to address the issue and the elimination of barriers to diagnosis and treatment. Partnerships with the Los Angeles County Perinatal Mental Health Task Force, Postpartum Support International, UCSF Medical Center, Homeless Prenatal Program and Help a Mother Out have been cornerstones of the program.

Over time, the project’s focus has evolved from legislative advocacy and awareness-building to capacity-building through stakeholder engagement and volunteer participation, always with an eye on sustainable change. Today, Advocacy Project continues with the 2020 Mom Project, which sets forth tactical steps for hospitals and providers to improve awareness nationally, and with the training of nearly 500 health care providers via a Web-based Maternal Mental Health certificate program.