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Why Texas Needs More Mental Health Services for Postpartum Depression & Anxiety

Jared Hersch/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
A baby's birth can be a magical experience, but what comes after can also be terrifying.

From Texas Standard:

Editor's note: This story discusses details that may not be suitable for children.

Fifteen years ago this week, Andrea Yates – a mom from a Houston suburb – methodically and systematically drowned all five of her children. The kids ranged in age from six months to seven years old.

Yates was found guilty of the killings, but later was re-tried and found innocent by reason of insanity. She now lives in a Texas State Hospital. The insanity found to afflict Yates was an extreme case of postpartum psychosis.

The symptoms and consequences of the disease can vary widely, and not all instances of postpartum or post-adoption depression and anxiety end in tragedy.


A baby's birth can be a magical experience. But sometimes, after the magic of delivery is gone, terrifying feelings can overcome a new mom. Amy Tucker says the postpartum depression she suffered after her first baby was born was so scary she didn't think she could ever have a second child.

"At first it was just pure anxiety – like absolute full-blown level-10 panic attacks.," Tucker says. "Then, it turned more into rage."

For Travis County criminal defense attorney Kristi Couvillon-Wise, her postpartum depression was lethal. In her obituary it says only that she lost the long battle with postpartum depression.

With her family's permission, her friend Nancy Nicolas reads from Couvillon-Wise's obituary: "She was a strong advocate for social justice helping win a case at the Supreme Court while working with the Texas Defender Service."

Couvillon-Wise was accomplished, healthy, athletic, well-educated. She knew she had postpartum depression and treated it.

"That made it even a little bit more scary because it's like when somebody is diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer and you know they're receiving the best treatment – but sometimes there is just nothing you can do," Nicolas says.

Other times much can be done. Millions of women do recover from the mental health condition without hurting themselves or others.

Amy Tucker was able to overcome the rage and anxiety she had. She even decided to have a second child. But she also decided to quit her job as a marketing executive to become a postpartum doula. She works for a non-profit called The Pregnancy and Postpartum Health Alliance of Texas. Now she helps moms who are in the thick of it – for free.

"I'm often the first person to ask a mom 'How are you feeling?' – and not in a 'How was your day?' – the way you would have at HEB with a stranger conversation," Tucker says. "But no, truly, 'How are you feeling?'"

If the mom is anxious or overwhelmed, Tucker is armed with coping and organizational techniques. On occasion, she will help with simple house chores. But when the need is medical, Tucker refers clients to area doctors.

Dr. Moss Hampton is an obstetrician in Odessa – a busy one.

"I don't know how many babies I've delivered over the last 30 years," Hampton says.

Not only does Hampton deliver babies, he also teaches and chairs the Texas Chapter of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Greg Abbott said he had a plan to add optional screening and treatment for postpartum depression to services covered by CHIP and Medicaid, but there's been little movement on it. There's still a need for more awareness and more funding in Texas when it comes to dealing with postpartum depression, Hampton says, but there is also an even greater need.

"Our greatest need is mental health providers," Hampton says. "Just put in a pitch. If we could get more people to go into mental health it could really help (to save lives)."

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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