The Need for Perinatal Mental Health Training - Seleni Blog

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The good news: It's (slowly) getting better
Not all graduate schools are neglecting maternal mental health, says Wendy Davis [of Post Partum Support International]. A growing number are integrating it into their curriculum. "Wherever it is happening, it's because there's a pioneering faculty member who says, 'I know how common and how important this is,' and finds a way to teach it."

Aurélie Athan, PhD, is one of those pioneers. The Sexuality, Women, and Gender Project she cofounded at Teachers College Columbia University will soon offer a Reproductive and Maternal Well-Being curriculum, along with its current masters- and doctoral-level certification programs and a master's concentration within the clinical psychology department.

And while she agrees that her program is unique, she says the landscape is changing elsewhere, as well. "There's a lot of good work being done," she says. "I wouldn't say that training is absent; sometimes it's just scattered."

An interested student might take electives or find mentors in other departments, she suggests, such as women's studies, psychiatry, public health, or nursing. (Although maternal mental health training is also limited in psychiatry, there do seem to be more examples of medical schools doing it well.) "The very nature of the subject is interdisciplinary," she adds, "so it can be challenging to consolidate it as part of a core curriculum."

Davis, who teaches postgraduate training through Postpartum Support International, says the future of maternal mental health education is promising. "I've watched this next generation of leaders come to trainings and get excited and go back to their institutions and create good curriculum," she says. "It's only going to get better."

Advice for students, professionals, and patients
For students considering graduate school, there's no database for institutions that cover reproductive or maternal mental health. Your best bet, says Athan, is to research individual schools: Ask about professors' areas of research and expertise, opportunities for related internships, and any electives that may be available.

Even if a school doesn't offer an official program, she adds, you may be able to create one by looking outside of your department. "Sometimes students have to get creative and stitch together a tapestry of expertise across disciplines," she says.

Fortunately for professionals who didn't receive training in school, there are postgraduate options available.

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