Maternal Mental Health Bills Aim To Make It Easier For Depressed Moms To Get Help : Shots - Health News A package of mental health bills in California aims to make it easier for new moms to get help and to build awareness among more health workers of postpartum mood disorders.
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Nurse Calls Cops After Woman Seeks Help For Postpartum Depression. Right Call?

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Nurse Calls Cops After Woman Seeks Help For Postpartum Depression. Right Call?

Nurse Calls Cops After Woman Seeks Help For Postpartum Depression. Right Call?

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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A woman went to the doctor in Sacramento for symptoms of postpartum depression, and a nurse called the cops on her. That story caught the attention of lawmakers in California, who say new mothers need better mental-health screening and treatment. April Dembosky of member station KQED filed this report.

UNIDENTIFIED TODDLER: I want to hold my sister.

APRIL DEMBOSKY, BYLINE: Four months after having her second baby, Jessica Porten started feeling really irritable at little things like her glider chair.

JESSICA PORTEN: And it had started to squeak. And so when I'm sitting there rocking the baby and it's squeaking, I would just get so angry at that stupid chair.

DEMBOSKY: She read online that this could be a symptom of postpartum depression so she and her baby went to a women's clinic in Sacramento.

PORTEN: I briefly described my symptoms and said that I wanted to talk about medication options and therapy.

DEMBOSKY: She admitted to the nurse that she was having some violent thoughts.

PORTEN: I described, you know, maybe hitting myself or squeezing the baby too tight, but I was very adamant through the entire appointment that I was not going to hurt myself and I was not going to hurt my children.

DEMBOSKY: Still, that's when everything changed.

PORTEN: I could almost see at that moment that she stopped listening to me.

DEMBOSKY: The nurse called the police. The police escorted Porten and her baby to a nearby emergency room. Hospital staff made her change into a gown and took her purse, but they let her keep her diaper bag for the baby. They put them both in a room under constant watch.

PORTEN: It's like, everybody knows that I'm not crazy. Everybody knows that this is normal, but they're following protocol.

DEMBOSKY: Finally at midnight, 10 hours after she first got to the doctor's office, a social worker sent her home. She says the whole thing made her feel like a criminal.

PORTEN: It was all legality. Everybody was protecting their own liability instead of thinking of me.

DEMBOSKY: The doctor's office declined to comment. A spokesman for Sutter Health, Gary Zavoral, says the hospital's ER staff was following protocol, and every step was about keeping everyone safe.

GARY ZAVORAL: The process does take some hours. So 10 hours isn't unusual.

DEMBOSKY: California law allows doctors to involuntarily confine a person with a mental disorder if they are a danger to themselves or others. But San Francisco psychiatrist Melanie Thomas says what constitutes imminent danger can be vague.

MELANIE THOMAS: You can imagine how a provider or a social worker, any number of people may interpret that phrase in different ways about what is necessary to report and what isn't.

DEMBOSKY: Lawmakers in Sacramento want to improve how to identify and treat maternal mental health conditions. State Assemblyman Brian Maienschein wants to require doctors to screen new moms for depression. Right now it's a recommendation.

BRIAN MAIENSCHEIN: The numbers here are so significant.

DEMBOSKY: One in 5 women in California have prenatal or postpartum depression.

MAIENSCHEIN: That I think it's something that doctors really should understand and should be prepared to both diagnose and to treat.

DEMBOSKY: He also wants the state to tap into a new federal pot of money set aside for postpartum programs and awareness campaigns. It was established in the new 21st Century Cures Act.

MAIENSCHEIN: Getting federal funding is a great thing. It's money that's available from the federal government that I'd like to see the state of California have versus another state, right?

DEMBOSKY: The legislation has given Jessica Porten a new purpose. People have told her she should sue her doctor's office, but she says, no. She thinks getting the bills passed is the way to help the clinic do a better job. For NPR News, I'm April Dembosky in Sacramento.


SHAPIRO: This story's part of a reporting partnership with NPR, KQED and Kaiser Health News.


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