A way forward in the maternal mortality crisis: addressing maternal health disparities and mental health

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Abstract

Our objective was to review the role of maternal health disparities and mental health in the maternal mortality crisis in the USA, and discuss how perinatal care quality improvement in these areas is a critical lever for reducing maternal death. This paper summarizes content from a plenary talk delivered at the 2020 Biennial Meeting of the International Marcé Society for Perinatal Mental Health, in commemoration of the Society’s 40th anniversary. The talk synthesized literature on two characteristics of the maternal mortality crisis in the US: (1) wide racial and ethnic disparities in maternal mortality and severe morbidity and (2) the impact of mental health and substance use disorders on maternal death, and introduced a framework for how health care quality gaps contribute to both of these issues. The US remains an outlier among similar nations in its alarmingly high rates of maternal mortality. Achieving significant progress on this measure will require confronting longstanding racial and ethnic disparities that exist throughout the pregnancy-postpartum continuum, as well as addressing the under-reported issue of maternal self-harm. Suicide and overdose are leading but under-recognized causes of death among pregnant and postpartum women in some states. Health care delivery failures, including inadequate risk assessment, care coordination, and communication, are identified in the literature on drivers of maternal health disparities and self-harm. Many of the same steps to improve quality of perinatal care can help to reduce health disparities and address the essential role of mental health in maternal well-being.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)823-830
Number of pages8
JournalArchives of Women's Mental Health
Volume24
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 2021

Keywords

  • Disparities
  • Maternal mortality
  • Mental health
  • Obstetrics
  • Quality of care

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