Nestled on the second floor of a quiet Carnegie Hill block, the Seleni Institute for women’s maternal and reproductive mental health is a port of calm for New York women. Clean, quiet, and decorated in a soothing palate of beiges and grays, the tranquility of its atmosphere is reflected in the cool confidence of its founder, Nitzia Logothetis, as she emphasizes the center’s 360-degree approach to maternal healthcare.
Logothetis and her husband, George, founded Seleni as a nonprofit organization in 2011, and today the center provides care to more than 300 women each week and information to women around the world through their website, as well as funding for maternal and reproductive mental health research. Logothetis, a trained psychotherapist who has worked with families and children her entire career, was inspired to start the institute after seeing friends face many of the issues that can surround reproduction and pregnancy.
“I thought: Why is it that we are not at all focused on maternal reproductive mental health, when there’s so much that goes wrong in that period, whether it’s infertility, post-partum depression, miscarriage, child loss, stillbirth,” she says.
Seven million couples in the United States face infertility; 4 million women in the United States have suffered a miscarriage; one in every 160 babies is stillborn, and 1 million women in the United States suffer from post-partum depression each year. However, though these issues affect millions of women, stigmas against these conditions can make it difficult for women to know where to turn for help.
“I mean, who wants to come in and say: ‘I’m sad, I just had a baby,’” Logothetis says. “You see the Hallmark cards, you see the adverts, you see the perfect pictures in the Pottery Barn Kids catalog, of the beautiful nursery, smiling baby, completely clean—the reality is so different.”
To help women who may be struggling with the disconnect between popular culture’s idealistic expectations surrounding pregnancy and motherhood, Seleni takes a holistic approach to maternal and reproductive mental health. In addition to private psychotherapy sessions, Seleni offers a weekly breastfeeding group with a lactation consultant, a sleep support consultant, a free support group for new mothers, an infertility support group, a working moms’ support group, and monthly workshops on a variety of topics—from how to prepare your child for a new sibling, to how to discuss sexuality with your daughter.
There are also rooms for acupuncture and massage treatments within the institute, which further highlight the well-rounded nature of Seleni’s approach.
But Seleni’s reach extends beyond the clinic. For example, the organization provides an annual grant to fund research on perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. Last spring, the inaugural Seleni Research Award was granted to Dr. Katherine Sharkey, a sleep medicine researcher at Brown University, for a project on the importance of sleep and the effects of light therapy on anxiety pre- and post-partum.
The institute also has an editorial component: Seleni’s website is home to more than 200 evidence-based articles on subjects such differentiating between post-partum depression and the baby blues, pregnancy loss etiquette, and how to manage your emotions during a pregnancy following a still birth. These articles reach women all over the world—Logothetis notes India as one of the top five countries that drive the most traffic.
“Obviously, we can’t provide psychotherapy to everyone all over the world, but they can find the information,” Logothetis says. “It’s always gratifying to see people in West Africa accessing us, or people in East Asia, or even in Russia—it’s amazing, because people are really looking for this information and it’s not available.”
Even within the city, Seleni is dedicated to being an accessible center for its patients. With clients coming from every borough, New Jersey, and Connecticut, clinicians are even willing to provide Skype sessions if a client isn’t able to leave her home. The institute also provides financial assistance to more than 30 percent of its clients, and some women receive up to a 90 percent reduction of the individual therapy fee.
Since the institute’s launch three years ago, Seleni has received a warm reception from local clients and OB-GYNs, and has been visited by both Laura Bush and Nancy Pelosi during the past year.
“People’s eyes literally well up when I start explaining what we do at Seleni because inevitably their sister, their mother, themselves, or their parents have been through one of these things,” Logothetis says. “It’s just amazing that nothing like this has been done before.”
Logothetis, and Seleni, view a mother’s mental health as a critical component of general family health—and as a fundamental part of preventative care for the rest of the family.
“It’s a little bit the oxygen mask theory, if mom’s doing okay, everyone else is doing okay,” Logothetis says. “If mom’s not doing okay, then everyone else is suffering.”
Logothetis feels passionately that women must empower themselves to take control of their own wellbeing. Even the institute’s name was inspired by female strength and courage: Seleni is derived from a combination of the names Selene, a goddess of the moon associated with women, emotions, and serenity, and Eleni, a mother who fought for her children’s escape to America during the Greek Civil War.
“Take care of yourself because if you’re not taking care of yourself nobody else will,” Logothetis says. “We’re here to help in any way we can.”
To learn more about the Seleni Institute, visit seleni.org.