Two Jewish health professionals in Pittsburgh — one working at AHN, one at UPMC — are changing the face of perinatal mental health in Pennsylvania.
Dr. Eydie Moses-Kolko works for UPMC as a senior adviser for its outpatient perinatal mental health program. She said she became interested in the topic at the end of her residency at UPMC Western Behavioral Health at Magee-Womens Hospital.
“Over my lifetime, I’ve had anxiety and depression that made me curious about psychology as a profession and made me curious about how I would fare psychologically through a pregnancy of my own,” Moses-Kolko, who lives in Point Breeze, said.
Today, she has two young adult daughters. When her first child was born in 2002, she said she was aware of the “stress of juggling motherhood with a career.” She also knew a thing or two about the feelings processed after having a child.
“I definitively feel like I have personal experience myself,” she said.
So, she shared it. And she found, as time went on, that conversations about perinatal mental health were changing.
“The discussions are a lot more nuanced now,” Moses-Kolko said. “What’s changed is that post-partum depression is a single entity, and there’s a wide spectrum of perinatal symptoms.”
She also looks at the bigger picture, whether it’s the marginalization of certain women or the psychological impact of medications and lactation.
“My practice and my interest have turned more to how to repair our communities on a larger scale,” she said.
Rebecca Brent, Psy.D., works for AHN as the program director for women’s behavioral health. She has been involved in perinatal mental health since she became licensed as a psychologist in 2015.
“First and foremost is the patient,” Brent, who lives in Squirrel Hill, said. “I primarily see women or birthing parents suffering from anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder.”
Brent also works with those in the aftermath of infertility issues, helping with group therapy nine hours a week for mothers struggling with mood and anxiety disorders, and their new children.
“I am struck by the fact that we need to intervene earlier,” Brent said. “Parents’ depression has a huge impact on their children.”
Brent said she is “amazed by the progress we’ve made in the last eight years in Pittsburgh.” People are more tuned in now to perinatal issues and parents’ emotional and psychological states.
Brent also is a mother; she has a 15-year-old daughter and 10-year-old twins. She didn’t struggle with perinatal depression or anxiety. But she did have experience with infertility and used IVF to help get pregnant.
“There’s such a need for more services,” said Brent, who lamented that most perinatal mental health programs are clustered on the East Coast. “There is no way we can meet the need — about one in five women will have a perinatal mood disorder … we’re just behind. It’s very distressing.”
Things are changing. At AHN, doctors now are screening for both depression and bipolar disorder in all OB-GYN offices during the third trimester of pregnancy and, again, six weeks post-partum. And, though Pennsylvania got a grade of C from a group working with Georgetown University, it was one of the higher grades in the U.S.
Moses-Kolko and Brent also work together, collaborating in a group called Postpartum Pittsburgh, and sometimes swapping or sharing patients when insurance restrictions dictate it.
Why do they do it?
Moses-Kolko has a simple answer.
“This person has a hand in the development of future generations,” she said. “Being able to offer care — I feel that’s in my upbringing.” PJC
Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.