Making a Difference: Helping Mothers, Helping Babies

Wednesday, May 15, 2019 - 11:30am

Around the world, as many as 2 in 10 new mothers experience some type of perinatal mental health issues. Having a child is viewed as being a happy time in a woman's life however for many it can be a dark, terrifying and isolating place. Maternal mental health illnesses frequently go unnoticed and untreated, often with long-term and sometimes tragic consequences to both mother and child. Women of every culture, age, income level, and race can develop perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. Symptoms can appear any time during pregnancy and the first year after childbirth. There are effective and well-researched treatment options available to help women recover. Dr. Saira Kalia discusses the importance of maternal mental health and how perinatal psychiatry can affect the trajectory of a person’s life for the better.

Why did you choose psychiatry in medical school and then specialize in maternal mental health?

I always knew I wanted to work with women and help their quality of life somehow. In medical school, I struggled between Psychiatry and Ob/Gyn. I chose Psychiatry as I felt that I could work more with the issues that I was passionate about. Psychiatry allows me to help people enjoy their life more and find meaning despite obstacles. It is an immense privilege to be able to help someone during a difficult time in their life especially a time that should be one filled with joy. 

Why is Maternal Mental Health Week important?

Maternal Mental Health Week is one of the first markers that show Arizona policymakers care about women and mental health. It is the first stone that hopefully unleashes an avalanche in our healthcare system. Postpartum mood and anxiety disorders are the most common complication of pregnancy and it is about time we started to shine a light on the issue. While the illness has biologic roots as well as psychological factors that contribute to it there are social changes that can be made that would help with prevention and recovery.

What do you wish everyone knew about maternal mental health?

Babies are beautiful and challenging. Perinatal mental health issues are quite common and there are many treatment options that can be quite effective. Also, it is not just about moms, these disorders affect the marriage, the partner’s mental health and the baby's emotional and physical health can be affected as well.

What do you hope to see happen in your field in the next ten years?

I would love to see more societal education and understanding of perinatal mental health issues, policy changes that support perinatal leave and an increase in services for moms of all socioeconomic backgrounds.

How has your work in perinatal psychiatry/maternal mental health affected your life?

It has given me a sense of purpose and drive. It has been a blessing to see the moms I work with get better and start to engage more with their families and babies, as well as thrive. It has given me a new appreciation for community building and for my own community. 

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Learn about more resources in Tucson, visit the Tucson Postpartum Depression Coalition: