The Periscope Project increases accessibility to mental health resources for pregnant and postpartum women

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EAU CLAIRE, Wi. (WEAU)-- For many women, mental health issues can arise during or after pregnancy. The Periscope Project is a Wisconsin based program that works to increase accessibility to mental health resources for pregnant or postpartum women.

The Periscope Project connects health care providers to perinatal psychiatrists for telecounseling sessions. It allows providers to discuss symptoms of mental health issues they notice in their patients and come up with a plan of action whether it be prescriptions or referral to a specialist.

“They have called me back within almost seven minutes every single time and so the patient is still in the clinic so I can help her feel heard right away,” says Heidi Carter, a midwife at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire who has used the telecounseling program seven times in the last year and a half to get help for her patients.

The Periscope Project promises to have a perinatal psychiatrist respond to the health care provider within thirty minutes, allowing women to avoid potential waiting lists.

“It’s an essential resource,” Carter says. “Across the nation we have a shortage of mental health providers and a lot of times women are coming in pregnant and they have never been asked about their mental health so we are the first initial access a lot of time.”

Carter says mental health issues, like postpartum depression can get in the way of the pregnancy experience like bonding with the baby. The Periscope Project works to reduce stigma around mental illness and encourage more women to come forward to get help.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, at least 13% of women have major depressive symptoms while pregnant and 14% experience postpartum depression.

Carter also participated in training provided by the Periscope Project to learn how to identify symptoms of mental health issues.

“Hormones play a big part of it so with midwifery we try to determine if this is something that’s a normal part of pregnancy or abnormal,” Carter says.

The Periscope Project also allows patients to discuss potential mental health treatment with a provider they are already working with.

“We have time to sit and speak with these patients and provide that space that’s safe for them to share what’s going on,” Carter says. “These patients see us every week or every couple of weeks sometimes and they feel a lot more comfortable sharing with us and there’s a unique benefit in that it provides that safe space and women aren’t feeling judged.”

Periscope works with more than 650 providers and more than 700 telecounseling sessions have been conducted in the last two years.

Carter says the goal now is to get more providers enrolled in the program.