Improving mental health outcomes in perinatal populations

Department news | March 30, 2023

The maternal mortality rate has increased nearly 89% since 2018. While mortality rates increased for all race groups, maternal mortality rates for Black and Hispanic women significantly increased – in 2021 Black women were more than 2.5x more likely to die from pregnancy related causes than White and Hispanic women. The leading underlying cause of pregnancy related deaths in Washington State are mental and behavioral health conditions that include death by suicide and overdose. Depression and anxiety can affect 1 in 6 women during the perinatal period, but only about 50% are detected, 15% receive any treatment, 7% receive adequate treatment, and about 4% are treated to remission. Untreated perinatal depression leads to maternal distress and dysfunction and negative behavioral and physical outcomes for children. Populations marginalized by reason of income, race or ethnicity experience disparities in identification and treatment of mental health disorders.

There is an urgent need to identify every individual with a perinatal mental health or substance use disorder and to ensure they receive appropriate levels of care. Effective treatment of perinatal depression and / or substance use is perhaps the single most effective strategy to support perinatal people and their families and to prevent future mental health and substance use problems in children, adolescents, and adults.

Generous philanthropic gifts from the Perigee Fund and Gerlich Family have made it possible for the UW Perinatal Mental Health & Substance Use Education, Research & Clinical Consultation Center (PERC Center) to offer treatment through the UW Perinatal Telepsychiatry Clinic, and an anonymous donor gift is enabling PERC to establish best practices for mental health screening, follow up, case management, symptom tracking and clinical care for all Medicaid-insured women receiving prenatal or postpartum care. These initiatives – led by Amritha Bhat, MD, MPH, and Deb Cowley, MD – work towards the PERC Center’s goal to ensure that all perinatal people receive adequate, effective, and equitable mental health and substance use care. Feel free to reach out to the PERC Center Manager (Jamie Adachi, MPH, at if you would like to get involved with this important work.