Recent years have seen an evolution in the way mental health care is approached and discussed. There has been a public push for more open dialogue surrounding mental health, as well as for increased affordability and accessibility to mental health treatment. Villanova College of Nursing students had the opportunity this spring semester to delve deeper in to this issue with the seminar, “Crucial Conversations: Mental Health from a Women’s Perspective,” taught by Nursing’s Amy McKeever and Sue Ellen Alderman.
McKeever, an Advanced Practice Nurse Practitioner in obstetrics and gynecology, and Alderman, a psychologist, both have extensive clinical experience with women’s mental health care. The new seminar teaches students about the gender and cultural differences that impact women’s mental health in the U.S., and covers topics including sexual assault, the psychological implications of infertility and other reproductive issues, peripartum mood disorders and treatments, eating disorders, and substance abuse across the female life cycle.
McKeever and Alderman also teamed up for the paper, “Assessment and Care of Childbearing Women with Severe and Persistent Mental Illness,” published in the journal, Nursing for Women’s Health. Severe and Persistent Mental Illness (SPMI) affects up to 20 percent of all pregnant women, but finding mental health care that’s both affordable and accessible is often a challenge.
McKeever and Alderman also noted an alarming knowledge gap between mental health care providers and OBGYNs in ensuring the patient’s mental health needs and medications are taken in to account throughout her pregnancy, birth, and post-partum experience. Women with a history of SPMI often don’t disclose their psychiatric history to healthcare providers for fear of judgment, and most maternal-child health care providers have minimal training in caring for pregnant women with SPMI. SPMI can arise at first onset of pregnancy, or be exacerbated as a result of the changes occurring during pregnancy, and in women with SPMI, the probability of postpartum depression is increased. McKeever and Alderman stress that ongoing communication and care coordination between psychiatry and obstetrics is crucial to protect the health and safety of both mother and baby.