Can a prevention-first approach transform maternal mental healthcare delivery? Jenn thinks so.

Jenn Gendron
April 15, 2024
4 min read

Jenn Gendron, MSW, MBA, spent 15 years as a therapist before transitioning to digital health. 

She has worked in nearly all levels of the care continuum when it comes to behavioral health—plus she’s a mother of 2 boys—so we appreciate her perspective on how to think about revolutionizing mental health care for moms. 

Here’s our chat on what the future of maternal mental health could look like.

1. Why is a prevention-first approach essential for transforming maternal mental health care delivery?

In my clinical experience, care was reactive. But that can result in care that is too little, too late. A proactive approach—like the one Canopie takes—ensures support for all, recognizing the importance of prevention on the mental health continuum. 

The most exciting aspect of prevention-based mental health support in transforming maternal health lies in its potential to empower mothers with knowledge and resources to navigate the challenges of motherhood proactively. As a new mother myself (twice and many years ago now), I understand the reluctance to seek help and the societal pressure to portray motherhood as exclusively joyous. However, the reality is often different, with many mothers facing overwhelming feelings of anxiety, isolation, and uncertainty.

My own experience of grappling with panic attacks shortly after giving birth underscored the importance of a supportive network. Fortunately, I had friends who could relate to my struggles, but not all mothers are as fortunate. Many lack access to adequate prenatal care and supportive networks, exacerbating their feelings of isolation and distress.

By providing comprehensive support and education to all new and expecting mothers, we can empower them to recognize the signs of mental health struggles and seek help when needed. Equipping mothers with the knowledge of what to expect during pregnancy and postpartum, along with strategies for coping with stress and identifying when professional support is necessary, can significantly improve maternal well-being.

2. How we can weave prevention-based mental health support into existing maternal health systems? And make sure it's truly accessible?

Integrating prevention-focused mental health support into existing maternal health systems requires a multifaceted approach. One effective strategy is leveraging the power of peer support networks. Providing opportunities for expectant mothers to connect with others who have experienced similar challenges can offer invaluable reassurance and guidance. Early access to these peer support networks during pregnancy is crucial for laying a foundation of support.

Furthermore, digital mental health platforms play a pivotal role in ensuring accessibility to support services. Recognizing that not all mothers can readily access in-person resources, such as doctor's appointments or local peer groups, digital platforms offer a convenient alternative. Rock Health’s 2024 Consumer Adoption survey highlighted that within the top 5 drivers of virtual care use in the general population are greater convenience (39%), shorter wait times (30%), and overcoming transportation barriers (17%). These digital health advantages are arguably ever more relevant for expecting and new mothers who have immensely challenging logistical barriers in addition to more time-bound, specific, and acute care needs.  Whether through mobile apps or online portals, these platforms provide a wealth of information, support, and networking opportunities.

In addition, proactive assessment is essential for identifying mental health concerns early on. Implementing brief, user-friendly screening tools can help flag potential symptoms of depression or anxiety. This proactive approach enables timely intervention and ensures that mothers receive the necessary support from healthcare providers when needed.

By combining peer support networks, digital mental health solutions, and proactive assessment measures, we can effectively weave prevention-based mental health support into existing maternal health systems. This holistic approach ensures that every mother has access to the care and resources needed to safeguard her mental well-being throughout the journey of pregnancy and beyond.

3. With all the pressures moms face, what strategies do you think could really make a difference in preventing mental health issues during pregnancy and beyond?

One of the fundamental challenges in addressing maternal mental health issues is the pervasive stigma surrounding seeking help during pregnancy and beyond. This stigma often prevents mothers from accessing the support they need. Digital mental health support emerges as a promising solution, offering accessible and confidential resources that can be utilized on one's own terms.

In addition to digital solutions, fostering supportive communities where mothers feel encouraged to openly discuss mental health is crucial. By normalizing conversations about maternal mental health, we can reduce shame and stigma, creating an environment where seeking help is viewed as a sign of strength rather than weakness. This cultural shift can be facilitated through various channels, including educational content and classes, community support groups, and awareness campaigns.

4. Digital health tools are everywhere these days. How do you see them fitting into prevention-based mental health support for moms?

Transitioning from direct clinical practice to the realm of digital health, I recognized the immense opportunity to reach a broader audience and intervene earlier in the mental health continuum. One of the key advantages of digital tools is their ability to provide support discreetly, offering a lifeline for mothers who may feel uncertain or hesitant to seek help through traditional avenues.

In addition to accessibility and discretion, digital mental health tools offer several other benefits. They can provide tailored resources and interventions, empowering mothers with personalized support that fits their unique needs. Moreover, these tools have the potential to bridge gaps in access to care, particularly for those in underserved or remote areas.

However, it's important to acknowledge that digital solutions are not a panacea for all mental health challenges. While they can be a valuable component of prevention-based support, they should be viewed as part of a larger ecosystem of care. Human connection and professional intervention remain essential, especially in cases where symptoms indicate a deeper underlying issue requiring personalized attention.

In considering the cons of digital mental health tools, one potential concern is the risk of reliance on technology at the expense of genuine human interaction.  It's crucial to strike a balance between digital interventions and the interpersonal support provided by mental health professionals. Additionally, issues related to data privacy and security must be carefully addressed to ensure the trust and confidentiality of users.

Digital health tools like Canopie offer tremendous promise in bolstering prevention-based mental health support for mothers and enabling early-intervention. By leveraging the advantages of technology while recognizing its limitations, we can create a more comprehensive and accessible system of care that meets the diverse needs of mothers navigating the challenges of mental health.