Cigna Group Foundation to support CCFH expansion of depression screening, intervention for underserved moms
The Center for Child and Family Health (CCFH) is announcing a new partnership with The Cigna Group Foundation that will expand its home-based program of postpartum support for new mothers at higher risk of maternal depression.
CCFH is one of 24 nonprofits nationwide awarded a Health and Well-Being grant from The Cigna Group Foundation, as part of The Cigna Group’s commitment to eliminate health disparities by partnering with nonprofits addressing the root causes of health inequity.
“We are thrilled to support The Center for Child and Family Health in its important work helping postpartum parents get the mental health care they need,” said Melissa Skottegaard, Chairperson of the Board, The Cigna Group Foundation. “We are committed to improving the vitality of communities, and know we are most effective when we collaborate. Through partnerships with organizations like The Center for Child and Family Health, we can help improve community vitality person by person.”
Maternal depression is a significant public health issue, particularly in the postpartum period, and one that disproportionately affects Black and Hispanic mothers. With this $100,000 grant, CCFH will be able to reduce maternal depression through a novel combination of two nurse delivered, evidence-based practices in Durham County, North Carolina. The support will help CCFH screen up to 800 mothers through the Family Connects postpartum home visiting program and providing to those who experience depression the Mothers & Babies curriculum, a simple but highly effective early intervention.
“Our objective is to provide the missing component – an effective, short-form intervention to bridge the gap between identifying symptoms of maternal depression and referring a woman for clinical treatment, which is difficult to access because of limited availability, cost, and maternal hesitancy about formal mental health treatment,” said Robert Murphy, CCFH executive director.
Overall, an estimated one in seven U.S. women experience maternal depression—with symptoms that include low mood, crying spells, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, sleep and appetite problems, feelings of worthlessness, and persistent thoughts of death—and the rates are almost double for women in under resourced families.
Beyond the serious consequences for a woman’s mental and physical health, maternal depression affects parenting capacity, resulting in less engagement and play, more negative views of children, harsher discipline, and less responsiveness to infant cues. Decades of research have shown consistently adverse effects of maternal depression on children, including difficulty regulating emotions, conduct and attention problems, language and literacy delays, and lower rates of preventive health care.
In recent years, rates of depression and anxiety among pregnant and postpartum mothers have increased substantially due to the myriad stresses associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. And when maternal depression is combined with additional stressors – such as poverty, domestic violence, and substance use – these risk factors can have a cascading, compounding, and enduring effect on child and adolescent development.
Tomeika Watson, CCFH’s director of early childhood prevention programs, said The Cigna Group Foundation’s support will extend the reach of its Family Connects home visits, a program that started 15 years ago and has been replicated nationwide to 39 sites in 19 states. Visits lasts two to three hours, during which the nurse conducts a health check for mother and baby and a comprehensive needs assessment including a depression screening.
If the screening indicates a need for additional supports, the Mothers & Babies intervention can be easily integrated into home visits and effectively provided in 15-to-25 minute sessions. The intervention addresses underlying risk factors for postpartum depression (including limited social support and harmful thought patterns) and prioritizes attachment between mother and baby.
“Beyond identifying symptoms and talking with a mother about her concerns, our nurses can offer a therapeutic response to more women and scale culturally affirming postpartum supports for those in underserved populations,” Watson said. “For mothers with mild symptoms, this approach often provides a profound level of relief and is helpful in reducing depression. For those with serious symptoms, these conversations serve as a bridge to higher levels of care.”