The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) opened the nation’s first stand-alone inpatient psychiatry unit specifically for expectant or new mothers struggling with depression and anxiety. It’s a place where treatment focuses on the needs of both mother and baby. Perhaps most significantly, a hospitalized mom is able to be with her baby most of the day, which stands in contrast to many general psychiatric wards that don’t allow infants. Overwhelmingly, new mothers with severe depression are placed in general psychiatric treatment centers, which are less equipped to treat the needs of new mothers. But UNC’s inpatient unit suggests this is starting to change.
The unit evolved from a pilot program launched in 2008; it was so successful — attracting hundreds of women from across the country — that hospital administrators were persuaded to carve out a separate space for the program. They set aside five patient beds and have treated 61 women since August, when the unit opened.
The facility hosts weekly therapy sessions with psychologists who practice mother-infant attachment therapy, which works on how mom relates to her baby and reads her baby’s cues, and there’s partner-assisted psychotherapy, which helps dad understand how he can be most effective. Moms learn stress-management skills, practice yoga and participate in biofeedback sessions and mindfulness-based stress reduction groups. They have access to lactation consultants and hospital-grade breast pumps if they want to express milk. Coping skills and medication help get these moms back on track; counselors help connect departing mothers with hometown resources or transition them to outpatient programs.
Insurance typically covers the cost of hospitalization as a mental health stay, assuming a woman’s symptoms are severe enough. The average stay of seven to 10 days can be prohibitively expensive.
Read more: Time Magazine