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Easterseals helping women battling maternal mental health from pregnancy to postpartum

Posted at 6:04 PM, Nov 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-14 17:02:22-05

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. (WXYZ) — “A lot of crying, a lot of panic attacks,” said Alyssa Apruzzese who struggled with depression while pregnant.

“I suffered in silence,” said Erika Posey also struggled. “Heart racing, shaking like I couldn’t breathe.”

It’s the hardship experienced by many but talked about by few: the battle with maternal mental illness, from pregnancy to postpartum.

“Do you think you were struggling with anxiety and depression?” asked WXYZ’s Ameera David.

“Yeah definitely, have been for a long time but that just made it a thousand times worse,” said Apruzzese.

For Alyssa Apruzzese, the symptoms intensified well before having her son, Wesley. The pregnancy was unplanned. She was nineteen and overwhelmed by the unknown.

“My anxiety about what my anxiety would do to him,” said Apruzzese.

Maternal mental health problems adversely impact not only the caregivers but also the growing infant.

“If the mother is more prone to anxiety in flight or fight, the child will have reactions,” said Uriel Stephens, Easterseals Michigan, Director of Family Services.

The condition is linked to problems with low birth weight, and the child’s physical, cognitive and emotional development.

“I was a teen mom, had my daughter at 18, I experienced depression, anxiety during that time,” said Posey.

Erika Posey says she was ashamed to admit it then, so she buried the feelings deep down.

Erika and Alyssa - while of different backgrounds-- represent the demographics hit hardest by the condition, A 2020 CDC (Center for Disease Control) study showing women of color, women pregnant at nineteen or younger, and low-income women disproportionately impacted.

For Erika, because the illness went untreated in pregnancy number one, it followed her to pregnancy number two, almost twenty years later and this time had manifested itself physically.

“I developed pneumonia from delivering him tachycardia, high blood pressure, and anxiety, my anxiety was through the roof,” said Posey.

Do you think a lot of these issues go unnoticed, unaddressed, unspoken?” asked David.

“Yes, they do. It’s all around the stigma,” said Posey. "Oh, you’re crazy. Nothing is wrong with you. If it’s not physical health it's not important.”

Erika’s own experience, driving her into a career in social work. Today, she is helping young women much like her through Easterseals Maternal Infant Health Program, a one-stop-shop that offers everything from therapy to help securing housing and financial assistance.

“The earlier we can intervene the better the outcomes,” said Stephens.

Thanks to Easterseals, for Alyssa, that outcome already looking brighter - allowing her to lean in as the mother she’s always wanted to be.

“I have come a long way,” said Stephens.

If you or know someone struggling, please reach out to Easterseals Michigan.