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Good mental health begins in infancy


For immediate release
Date:    2004

Most parents don't think of their babies or toddlers as having mental health needs, but they do. In fact, says infant mental health practitioner Willow Myers-Newell, a graduate of the Certificate Program in Infant Mental Health, many problems in adolescence and adulthood have their roots in early family relationships.

"Identifying and addressing infant mental health problems is the 'ultimate' in prevention," says Newell, a licensed mental health and family counselor in Bellingham who has been working clinically with women, families and children for almost 20 years.

Although all parents can sometimes feel overwhelmed when parenting an infant or toddler, most can rebound and maintain a stable, supportive relationship with their child. For those who constantly worry about their child, however, or who feel depressed or anxious, an assessment by a professional trained in the dynamics of infant-parent relationships may be helpful.

"A little individual support during pregnancy or after the birth of a baby, or participation in an organized support group for new mothers, is sometimes all that is needed to reassure parents that they are doing the right thing," says Newell. "Treating small problems early on can often prevent bigger problems later, such as developmental delays, behavior disorders or childhood depression, conditions that often continue into adulthood." Newell, who founded the Bellingham Whole Family Center after her graduation, suggests some reasons for mothers to seek professional support:

  • Feeling overwhelmed by your pregnancy
  • Marital problems
  • Constant worry
  • Feeling fearful, sad, isolated or burned-out
  • Having concerns about your baby's eating or sleeping behaviors
  • Feeling concerned that your baby is not bonding with you
  • Having concerns about your toddler's tantrums or other adjustment problems

The UW Center on Infant Mental Health, founded as a partnership between the School of Nursing and the Center on Human Development and Disability, created the graduate certificate program in 2001 to educate graduate students and working professionals about problems in infancy that can have lifelong consequences. Newell credits the two-year, part-time program with giving her a unique understanding of infant mental health and the mental health of women with prenatal and postpartum mood disorders that is unique in this area.

"Very few individuals working with women of childbearing age are trained in infant relationship therapy," she says. "Although the research behind this field goes back 30 years, it is just beginning to be incorporated into effective clinical practice."

Recognizing prenatal and postpartum issues is particularly important because women are more emotionally vulnerable following the birth of a baby than at any other time in their lives. "Feelings of stress and discomfort are as much a part of the package as feelings of joy and love," she says, "but too much stress puts strain on the infant-parent relationship. It's never too soon to get help."

For additional information about the Graduate Certificate Program in Infant Mental Health, go to, or call (206) 543-9200.

For additional information about the Bellingham Whole Family Center, or to contact Willow Myers-Newell about a speaking engagement or consultation services, call (360) 733-5248.


The University of Washington School of Nursing is consistently the nation’s No. 1-ranked nursing school, according to U.S. News & World Report. Ranked No. 3 in research funding from the National Institutes of Health, the UW School of Nursing is a national and international leader in improving the health and well-being of individuals, families and communities. The school addresses society’s most pressing challenges in health care through innovative teaching, award winning research and community service.