This Year, One Extra Mother's Day Gift

Postpartum depression is a national problem that needs a national response. The Melanie Blocker Stokes MOTHERS Act is the beginning of a long overdue national effort to combat this debilitating condition on multiple fronts -- with education, support services, and research -- so that affected new mothers can feel supported and safe rather than scared and alone. This Mother's Day we have cause to celebrate because the MOTHERS Act is now the law of the land.

Melanie Blocker Stokes was a healthy young mother who did not seem to know how to respond when her dream of motherhood became a reality. By the time her daughter, Sommer, was only 8 months old, Melanie's depression had become severe. She stopped eating and drinking and could no longer swallow. She became paranoid and looked for ways to end her life. She was hospitalized three times in seven weeks, was treated for depression and anxiety, but in the end she took her own life as a result of postpartum psychosis.

The MOTHERS Act we both have fought for -- along with Congressman Bobby Rush -- is named for her. It was passed into law and signed by the President as part of health insurance reform. It will begin to build the type of support structure that can be vital to the 10 to 20 percent of all new mothers who suffer from postpartum depression. It will focus national attention on the condition and help those affected by it feel safe, help them get through it, and help researchers get to the bottom of it.

With a National Public Awareness Campaign, the MOTHERS Act will shine a needed light on the seriousness and potentially devastating consequences of postpartum depression, so that new mothers, their families and the general public will better understand this condition and let them know that help is available.

Some people still think postpartum depression is just the "baby blues." This law will help dispel that notion and raise awareness among all of us. It will help educate new moms, their families, and every American about the torment of postpartum depression and how it can alter a woman's life and affect the lives of those who love her.

We both know there is still a lot to learn about why women get postpartum depression and how best to help them with treatment. This law is a beginning. It will open avenues of new research into the causes, diagnosis, and treatments of postpartum depression that affects as many as 800,000 new mothers in the United States each year.

We also know the importance of providing sufficient support in local communities so that new mothers suffering from this condition will have a place to go to find the help they need. The MOTHERS Act encourages the creation of local programs to give grants to community organizations, hospitals, and local governments to put in place effective support services. Hopefully, over time, we will see such support services spring up in every city and community across America because postpartum depression has no boundaries.

The bottom line for us is that, finally, this law makes postpartum depression a national issue. That's a victory for all women and, at this time of year, an added gift for Mother's Day. We believe we are now on a path toward better understanding postpartum depression, and we believe that a national effort to identify the best ways to promote the most effective screening and diagnostic techniques will make a difference to women and their families.

We are also pleased that, with the passage of health insurance reform this year, all new insurance plans will be required to cover comprehensive women's preventive care and screenings. That is now the law of the land and a major victory for women across this nation.

The overwhelming sadness, the unbearable thoughts, the emotional nightmare of postpartum depression is a horror that can cause extraordinary suffering. Anyone who has endured the emotional pain knows that this law is not only badly needed, but it is the right thing to do. We as a community -- each of us working together for the betterment of all of us -- have an obligation to all new mothers who need our help. We have an obligation to raise awareness, establish support services and do the research necessary to provide a ray of sunshine to those affected by postpartum depression.

That is what the Melanie Blocker Stokes MOTHERS Act is all about. It was enacted for Melanie and for the many women, one of whom has co-authored this article, who have experienced postpartum depression. We believe that a new national focus on this condition will, in the coming years, bring hope to millions of new mothers.