UA psychiatrists working to support mental health during & after pregnancy

Dec. 22, 2022

Natalie Skowlund/Tucson Sentinel

Dr Emerick, right, and Dr Kalia, left, in the hallway at BUMC South Campus.

Dr Emerick, right, and Dr Kalia, left, in the hallway at BUMC South Campus.


Research shows that mental health conditions are the most common complication during the perinatal period, often defined as one year before to a year or two after the birth of a child. One in five people will experience a mental health condition during this time, and people of color, those with lower incomes and LGBTQ individuals are disproportionately affected.

Mental and behavioral health conditions are also a leading cause of maternal mortality in the U.S. In Arizona, nearly half of all pregnancy-associated deaths are due to mental health or substance use issues, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services, and an estimated 98% of those deaths are preventable.

Kalia and Dr. Kathryn Emerick, also a perinatal psychiatrist at the University of Arizona, are teaming up to address the problem.

The pair are working to launch a statewide hotline next spring for providers who serve the perinatal population. Instead of trying to connect patients directly to psychiatrists, the resource hotline will connect health care providers directly to psychiatrists to facilitate consultations about a patient’s mental health.

“The idea would be that they could call the line and they would get connected to a perinatal psychiatrist within two or three minutes, be able to talk through the case, and get direct recommendations,” Kalia said.

The initiative, funded via the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, also will offer free training for providers across the state who want to learn more about maternal mental health. Down the road, Kalia hopes to facilitate access to psychiatric treatment when a patient needs an extra level of attention.

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