A new health center in Alachua is tackling the way mental health is treated for new and expecting mothers.
Better Beginnings, a center helping women with mental health issues before, during and after pregnancy, opened Jan. 2, said Lauren DePaola, the center’s founder.
Better Beginnings will hold its grand opening 5 p.m. Friday, DePaola said.
The center was created to serve women with perinatal mental health issues, such as postpartum depression, as well as providing them with psychiatric services like counseling, DePaola said.
“Women’s mental health has come a long way but still has a long way to go,” she said.
After struggling with postpartum depression and realizing there were no perinatal mental health resources in Florida, DePaola decided to create a center to help other women.
DePaola is a licensed clinical social worker who had a previous counseling center, Postpartum Wellness & Family Counseling, in Gainesville. She chose to relocate her practice to the quieter city of Alachua to create a more relaxing environment, she said.
Better Beginnings has the first partial hospitalization program, which follows an intensive five-day-a-week outpatient plan, for mothers and their babies in the southeast, DePaola said.
Up to one in five women combat postpartum depression and struggle to find the appropriate resources and medications when dealing with perinatal mental health issues, DePaola said.
Other services include yoga classes, acupuncture and massage, DePaola said. The center also has an on-site nursery, so mothers don’t have to worry about childcare during visits.
Mental health is a field where professionals do not have the additional education they need, DePaola said.
“We have to seek out the additional education,” DePaola said. “It’s not normal in our regular clinical education.”
DePaola received her education at Postpartum Support International where she received her perinatal mental health certification.
Dr. Wendy Davis, the executive director of Postpartum Support International, said centers like Better Beginnings can prevent crises when not enough treatment is available. There are only 82 perinatal mental health specialists certified by Postpartum Support International, like DePaola.
“The fact that centers like this are opening now is really encouraging to people who have been waiting for this kind of specialized care,” Davis said.
Women often go to their general doctors, nurses or midwives who don’t have the proper information on how to recognize, diagnose or treat mental health issues, said Ann Smith, president of Postpartum Support International.
“We’re really happy when programs like this open up,” Smith said. “We know how important they are.”