What is the cost of untreated mental health for moms and their children from pregnancy to age 5?
A new study sponsored by St. David's Foundation and Texans Care for Children found that in Texas, it's $2.2 billion for that roughly six-year period. The study by Mathematica used 2019 data and found that 1 in 8 pregnant or postpartum women, or 13.2%, had a maternal mental health condition.
Mathematica arrived at the $2.2 billion figure by looking at both income loss and the increased cost of care. Women with untreated mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression had income loss from absenteeism and a lower likelihood of being part of the workforce; increased suicide rates; and worse maternal health, including pre-eclampsia and an increased need for cesarean delivery.
Their children's cost of care increased because of low birth weight or preterm birth; lower likelihood of being breastfed; increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome; more behavioral or developmental disorders; and worse childhood heath, including an increase in asthma, injuries and obesity and fewer preventive health visits.
This report starts "unpacking all the ramifications of untreated mental health," said Lourdes Rodríguez, a senior program officer at St. David's Foundation, which paid for the study with a $50,000 grant. "It's not just the individual, but it's about the population. You can see this has implications for the state."
For each mother-child pair with untreated maternal mental health conditions, the average cost was $24,796 the first year and $44,460 through the child's fifth birthday.
"This is a small fraction of what the cost is," said Caroline Margiotta, the lead author of the study from Mathematica. "The cost of pain and suffering or stress, we couldn't quantify that."
It also doesn't include the cost of the impact a mother's mental health has on nonmaternal caregivers such as fathers or grandparents, or the cost of the impact on siblings of the children.
"If anything, the cost of not adequately treating (maternal mental health conditions) is an underestimate," said Dr. Jeffrey Newport, a psychiatrist and director of women’s reproductive mental health at the Mulva Clinic for the Neurosciences at UT Health Austin.
The cost doesn't end on the child's fifth birthday. He pointed to studies that have shown lifelong risks to the children for heart disease, diabetes, substance abuse and their own mental health diagnoses.