Caregiver Mental Health

May 26, 2021
Caregiver Mental Health

May is Mental Health Month, and this week’s tip comes from Jessica Zweifach, PhD, clinical psychologist at the Seaver Autism Center for Research and Treatment.

As a pediatrician, it is critical that you promote a healthy attachment between your patient and their primary caregiver. The early attachment to a primary caregiver serves as a model for successful future relationships, and a healthy, secure early attachment is related to a child’s successful social and emotional development [1]. Caregivers’ mental health is an important place to begin. In order to be responsive to a child’s needs, an adult’s own needs must be met. Your frequent interactions with parents at regular well-child visits can be used to promote parental mental health. Here are some tips for how to engage on this important topic:

1. Don’t be afraid to ask: Many pediatric practices screen for maternal depression at infant well-visits. If a concern is flagged, ask the parent about symptoms. Reduce stigma by being open about the topic of mental health.

2. Follow up: Ask parents how they are doing at future visits for the first six months, even after the initial maternal depression screening.

3. Check in about self-care: Remind parents that caring for their own needs and mental health is important. Parents will feel supported and appreciative that you, the pediatrician and expert, are recommending setting aside time for themselves.

4. Have referrals/resources ready: Keep a list of adult mental health providers/clinics in your area available. In addition to being practical, this normalizes the need for mental health intervention.

For more information see:
The CDC’s information about identifying maternal depression >

Zero to Three’s paper on improving maternal and infant mental health >