Maternal Depression Costs Society Billions Each Year, New Model Finds

The most common pregnancy complication is also among the costliest, for moms, babies and society at large.

A new cost model created by researchers at Mathematica finds that untreated mood and anxiety disorders among pregnant women and new moms cost about $14.2 billion for births in 2017, when following the mom and child pair for five years after birth.

About one in 7 pregnant and postpartum women nationwide are affected by perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, regardless of income. For low income women, rates of depressive symptoms are reported to be much higher, between 40 and 60 percent.  Women in most states that have not expanded Medicaid lose coverage just 60 days after giving birth, cutting off their access to care they need to treat depression, further exacerbating its effects.

As a recent CCF report found, maternal and infant death rates are higher in non-expansion states than in expansion states, and that expansion improves health for infants and can help reduce racial disparities in maternal and infant health. While coverage alone will not solve these problems, it’s an important first step.

And it’s a step worth taking. The Mathematica model calculates how these disorders lower productivity in the workforce, increase reliance on public benefits and raise health care costs for treating worse maternal and child health.

They also found that more than half of the costs occur within the first year and are associated with pregnancy and birth complications, including preterm birth and preeclampsia. That’s a hopeful finding, given that many states are recognizing the risks posed by postpartum depression and are taking steps to identify moms during their baby’s first year.

Half the states allow pediatricians to screen mothers for depression during a child’s well visit before their first birthday, and bill the child’s Medicaid coverage. More states are also investing in home visiting programs, which ensure that women and babies receive in-home screenings and visits from nurses several time in the months after a baby is born, which can help identify women in need of mental health support and treatment.

While screening is just the beginning, it’s an important place to start. As the model shows, the effects of perinatal depression and anxiety disorders are devastating to everyone. Children can miss out on important bonding experiences that can set them on a path for future behavioral and developmental disorders, families lose the economic security that comes from an engaged and employed caregiver, and moms are at risk for a lifetime or poor health. Supporting women at this critical time in their life with access to depression screening and treatment will show significant benefits to families and communities nationwide.  

Maggie Clark is a Program Director at the Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy’s Center for Children and Families.