Elizabeth Barnett, the director of the Childbirth Center at Houston Methodist The Woodlands Hospital, spoke with Community Impact about the hospital's new Maternal Mental Health Program which launched in 2023 and provides free resources for patients who are new mothers, including support groups for a variety of conditions, individual and family counseling, and help with medication management.

Can you describe the Maternal Mental Health Program?

We determined a year and a half, two years ago, with COVID[-19] ... I think we're very aware that mental health is a little neglected in our country. And so it all really came to a head and was just a little bit more apparent. And we really thought it was the best opportunity ... to try to get rid of that stigma and really just face it head on. So, mental health doesn't discriminate. It happens to moms right after delivery ... and then continues on. So it was just a really great time to partner with the social worker that I was able to hire who specializes in maternal mental health, and bring her in.

We're just about a year in. ... She started seeing patients at the end of May and beginning of June [in 2023]. We're ... getting it into our other campuses, working out the kinks of a new program across a little bit of time. We feel like it's a really good program now and eventually like to really get out there to help more of our community across the Houston area.

Was there a reason you chose The Woodlands campus?

We were aware of some needs in this community. There was a conversation about how can we help and reach more moms in our area. I think sometimes we have this idea that the people can only be depressed if they're worried about providing for their babies ... [but] it really doesn't discriminate. We found that our community needed it just as badly as it is some areas that aren't as affluent ... and that stigma of being perfect and doing everything right really [affects] patients in this area.

What does this program consist of if someone wants to participate?

Sometimes mental health comes with not just therapy, but being able to prescribe. And so partnering with our OB-GYN to deliver here, when medication management is needed is really, really important so that we are treating the patient holistically and not missing ... what goes hand in hand with therapy. The other part is it's just been the last couple of months that we can do virtual visits. So the moms ... if they have a newborn baby and they don't want to bring them out in the heat or the cold or the rain, she can do some virtual visits as well. We're trying to reach as many as we possibly can.

What would a typical support group look like?

We started with some support groups ... one was depression, one was anxiety. Maybe that wasn't really what our patients were looking for as much. ... They weren't as well received as we expected. ... So we moved it to a social support group. On Wednesdays, we have moms over in HEAL [the Health Education and Learning space]. In the HEAL space, we have everyone together and they can bring their baby in that space and visit and share stories. It's more of a social support group. ... That is what is working best for our community and the feedback we've received.