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Partnership opens a hub in a supermarket to help moms in need

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2014 - Autumn

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The Stop & Shop supermarket on Whalley Avenue in New Haven is about to add a new service for its customers: a mental health program for low-income single mothers. Starting in January, moms who need help coping with the stresses of daily life can find it five days a week at the supermarket through the New Haven Mental Health Outreach for Mothers (MOMS) Partnership. Launched in 2010, the partnership has helped 3,000 mothers in the city, said Megan V. Smith, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry and the principal investigator on the project.

“A mom would come in and we would talk to her about her goals, and other areas where she feels that she needs support for her family,” said Smith. MOMS offers a two-month, eight-session program in cognitive-behavioral therapy, as well as connections to a workforce development program and adult education. The program is part of a larger longitudinal city-wide research study that is evaluating the impact of community-based mental health and workforce development services on pregnant and parenting women and their children.

On December 9 Smith and city and state officials visited the supermarket to announce a new federal grant that will provide $3.7 million to expand the partnership. The expansion calls for new “hubs” like the one at Stop & Shop, where parents can access the services. In January other hubs will also open in New Haven at the Boys & Girls Club and the West Rock Authors’ Academy.

At the press conference, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman said that a grocery store is the perfect place to offer such services. “If you think about a parent or mom, where do we go? We go to the grocery store. Where’s a place where we’re pretty comfortable? The grocery store. You don’t have the stigma of walking into a doctor’s office or a mental health clinic.”

Natasha Rivera-LaButhie, a mother of three who went through program and is one of its three current ambassadors, described the cognitive-behavioral approach. “We have relaxation techniques, such as breathing exercises that moms find very useful,” she said. “We teach them problem solving, like being able to break down some of the issues that they face every day, such as paying bills, figuring out a schedule for your children, communications skills.”

Martha Okafor, Ph.D., head of New Haven’s Community Services Administration, said that emotional health underpins general health. “Addressing the fundamental area of emotional health and well-being of mothers is key to having healthy and functioning families.” Okafor said.

The MOMS partnership includes the School of Medicine, All our Kin, the Clifford Beers Clinic, the Diaper Bank and National Diaper Bank Network, the Housing Authority of New Haven, the New Haven Health Department, New Haven Healthy Start, New Haven Public Schools, and the Connecticut Department of Children and Families.

The federal funding comes from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families.