Expanded perinatal mental health screening proposed

A bill to expand mental health screening for women who have recently given birth was heard Jan. 19 by the Health and Human Services Committee.

Sen. Lynne Walz
Sen. Lynne Walz

LB905, introduced by Sen. Lynne Walz of Fremont, would allow the state Board of Medicine and Surgery to develop educational material, policies and procedures to address perinatal and postnatal mental health disorders.

The bill also would allow licensed health care professionals to educate pregnant women about perinatal and postnatal mental health and to offer pregnant women and new mothers a mental health screening questionnaire.

Walz said undetected mental health issues can lead to serious illness, injury or death for both mothers and their children.

“This bill has the capability of helping to stop suicides and keep mothers with their children,” Walz said.

Dr. Ann Anderson Berry, medical director of the Nebraska Perinatal Quality Improvement Collaborative, testified in support of the bill. She said that a mother’s mental health disorder can lead to premature births, decreased breast milk in a child’s diet, mother-child bonding difficulties and increased conflict between a mother and her partner.

“It is well-documented that perinatal and postpartum depression places families from all walks of life at risk,” Anderson Berry said.

Dr. Priscilla Lacroix also testified in support of the bill. Lacroix described to senators her physical and emotional recovery from the near-fatal delivery of her first child.

“Given my medical and professional background, I knew to utilize validated screening tools when I realized I was struggling as a new mom. When I screened positive, my doctor had a social worker who connected me with licensed professionals,” she said. “I think about the mothers across our state who do not have access to screening or resources to help them in their most challenging moments.”

Also speaking in support was Sara Howard of First Five Nebraska. Nebraska is one of seven states that does not codify maternal mental health in state law, Howard said. She added that current data on the mental health of mothers is self-reported, and that just 65 percent of Nebraska pediatric providers are offering perinatal mental health screening.

“The goal is that every single mother gets a screen,” Howard said.

No one testified in opposition to LB905 and the committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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