In February, the Seleni Institute held its largest training yet in three cities in Colombia. Partnering with government entities and high-profile nonprofit organizations, Seleni was able to bring our maternal mental health expertise to more than 550 providers on the front lines of maternal health in Bogotá, Medellín, and Cartagena.
In Bogotá, Seleni partnered with Secretaría de Integración Social (the department in the mayor's office responsible for administering social programs in the city) to train the staff of a program that visits low-income pregnant women and mothers in their homes. We also worked with the Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar, a nationwide government entity which protects vulnerable children and adolescents.
More than 250 psychologists, social workers, nurses, and nutritionists received two days of training on identifying perinatal mood and anxiety disorders and helping women get appropriate treatment as well as on managing the grief of perinatal loss. Particular emphasis was given to supporting teen moms through the emotional challenges and mood disorders of pregnancy and parenthood.
In Medellín, 170 staff members of hospitals and government offices (through the Despacho Primera Dama, Alcaldia de Medellin) came together for the two-day training. They were joined by researchers, students, and professors from local universities who work in the perinatal health field.
We concluded our training in Cartagena where two nonprofits that work to improve the lives of pregnant teens and lower income families – Fundación Juan Felipe Gómez Escobar and Fundación Granitos de Paz – brought together their staff as well as the staff members of partner organizations to learn how to offer pregnant and parenting women evidence-based, compassionate support for emotional struggles and mood disorders.
Throughout the training Patricia Harteneck, PhD, senior psychologist at Seleni, emphasized the importance of "psychoeducation" for patients and providers – that is, understanding the different mood disorders women are susceptible to during this time of life, recognizing the symptoms of each condition, and learning when a woman needs professional help to feel better.
Many providers shared that these issues had come up repeatedly in practice, but without training, they did not know how to handle them and often avoided the topics as a result. They were grateful to be given tools to make a difference in the lives of women and families. As one participant stated, the training provided "a space to expand our knowledge and to give women the importance they deserve as mothers and human beings."
A training of this scale would not have been possible without tremendous support from many key organizations and individuals. In particular, the work of Alicia Arango Olmos, former ambassador of Colombia to the United Nations in Geneva, was instrumental in bringing together this dedicated group with the singular cause of improving the emotional well-being of women and families.
We are grateful to them and to all the providers we met in Colombia who can play a key role in combatting stigma and providing women and families with the resources for getting the help they need to feel stronger and live their best life.