Over 10k pregnant women in Karnataka screened for mental health

The state government has screened more than 10,000 pregnant women/new mothers for mental health issues over the past eight months. The number includes 8,183 prenatal and 2,334 postnatal screenings for depression, anxiety, psychosis and suicidal thoughts, among other problems.

The district’s mental health program was fully launched in 2016. However, the detection of mental health problems in pregnant women began in April 2021 when the second wave of the covid pandemic began.

Around 140 staff members, including psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and nurses, participate in the program. Up to 42,000 licensed health social workers (Asha workers) have been trained to act as first responders and spot telltale signs of mental health problems. “During pregnancy and the post-pregnancy period, there are many physical and hormonal changes in women. About 7% to 20% of them have the possibility of falling into postpartum depression, which is why we want to screen all pregnant women. The idea is early detection, counseling and treatment so that the mental well-being of the mother can be improved,” said Dr. Rajani Parthasarathy, Deputy Director of Mental Health, Department of Health and Family Welfare.

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Parthasarathy said that the first 1,000 days of a baby’s life are the most important and that the well-being of the mother is intertwined with that of the baby. Mothers attending antenatal check-ups are asked questions about a history of mental illness and are asked if they currently experience constant worry, sadness and anxiety lately.

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Gradually, the state plans to ask private hospitals to also ask similar questions and conduct perinatal exams.

Dr. Hema Divakar, former president of the Federation of Obstetrical and Gynecological Societies of India, said: “Unless it is a multi-specialty hospital, private hospitals may not have the luxury of referring to a psychiatrist. Rather than a mere recommendation by the government, if you plan to issue one, raising awareness and capacity building is the best way to go. Single-specialty hospitals, nursing homes and clinics may not be equipped to spot the signs, even if they see one in women.”

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