JFS Maternal Mental Health Program aids struggling mothers

January 15, 2024

Four months into her pregnancy, Alexandria Hood learned she had entered into a situation that was high risk, both for herself and her baby. That wasn’t the news the 29-year-old Millsboro woman wanted to hear, but she recognized that things don’t always happen the way one wants them to.

Fortunately, her mother had learned about a relatively new program that could provide the support she needed – the Sonia Schorr Sloan Maternal Mental Health Program at Jewish Family Services of Delaware.

Hood made an appointment with Dr. Angelica Montalvo-Artis, the clinical psychologist who directs the program, and began a journey that carried her through a difficult delivery in August, followed by another hospitalization, then visits with multiple pediatric specialists for her newborn daughter and a change in jobs as well.

During their first meetings, she said, “Dr. Montalvo-Artis really got to know me. She asked questions you don’t normally hear. She made me feel like I was being heard.”

When the baby was born, Hood was aware that she could experience postpartum depression, and Montalvo-Artis did not dismiss those concerns. “I was scared. I was nervous with this little human being to take care of,” Hood said. “She helped me as a person, as a new mom, to build confidence in myself.”

Hood’s experience exemplifies a key goal the Sonia Schorr Sloan Maternal Mental Health Program has for its clients. “We want to wrap them in support,” said Rebekah Mo, program therapist.

Since its launch in 2021, the program has steadily grown, serving nearly 100 women in 2023, ranging from pregnancy through two years after birth. The program was named in honor of Sonia Schorr Sloan, an iconic Delawarean who passed away in 2019. She was a civil rights activist, Democratic Party strategist and nonprofit fundraiser, as well as a fierce advocate for juvenile justice, women’s rights and other causes.

Maternal mental health has become a hot topic in the last decade, and it’s no longer focused exclusively on postpartum depression, Montalvo-Artis said. The JFS staff, with a psychologist, a therapist and mental health counselors, plus a physician’s assistant on call, can provide support for diverse perinatal and postpartum issues including depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, psychosis, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder through a combination of individual therapy and support groups.

The JFS program addresses a significant community need. Before it was launched, there were fewer than 10 licensed providers in the state who accepted most insurance plans and had specialty training through Postpartum Support International. With support from the Sonia Schorr Sloan Memorial Fund, the JFS program can serve moms with no insurance or limited coverage, and there is no charge for participation in support groups.

According to JFS, one in five pregnant and new mothers experiences a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder, and that figure rises to two in five among Black, Hispanic and Asian American women. Three out of four women who experience PMADs do not get treatment, either because of a lack of awareness or a lack of insurance.

“A lot of women go through this completely alone, but you don’t have to,” Montalvo-Artis said. “And, no, you don’t have to wait for a certain level [of anxiety or depression] before seeking help. Women should know that anything that’s impairing their day-to-day functions is worth checking in on.”

Postpartum depression and its related conditions have many signals, but many women either do not recognize them, or ignore them, after they leave the embrace of doctors and pediatric nurses when they bring their babies home.

“It can be a sense of overwhelming, things piling on top of another, anxiety over the baby’s health, feelings of not being a good enough mother, a good enough wife,” Mo said. “You could have a racing heart rate, feel panicky, jittery or unable to get out of bed, losing interest in the things you once cared about.”

“If you’ve never had issues before, if you’ve never had to navigate the healthcare system, all of this can be very scary,” said Montalvo-Artis.

Since it is operating a relatively new program, Jewish Family Services is putting an emphasis on outreach, a step that’s doubly important, Mo said, because some obstetrician-gynecologists don’t screen patients for postpartum depression, perhaps because they don’t know where to make referrals. The agency’s outreach is targeting many of the touch points encountered by new and expectant mothers: pediatricians, doulas, lactation consultants, childcare centers, preschools, even massage and physical therapists.

For more information on the Sonia Schorr Sloan Maternal Mental Health Program for pregnant and postpartum patients, go to or call 302-478-9411.


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