When people think of depression, they imagine someone who is dealing with unemployment or grieving the loss of a loved one, but they rarely envision a mother who is supposed to be elated from the arrival of her new baby.
What is postpartum depression?
Postpartum depression is a mental disorder that affects behavioral, emotional, and physical health during pregnancy or after childbirth. This is usually caused by hormonal changes, stress, or genetics and affects a woman’s ability to care for her new baby. Some symptoms of this mental illness include mood swings, anxiety, irritability, despondency, fatigue, irregular sleep patterns, shame, guilt, and thoughts of suicide.
Who suffers from postpartum depression the most?
Around 50%-75% of new mothers experience the “baby blues,” which is a common type of depression that usually occurs within 10 days after childbirth. The “baby blues” is caused by stress and a shift in hormones. Although this is not postpartum depression, 20% of women who experience the “baby blues” develop postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression affects pregnant women, mothers who just gave birth within the past several months, women who underwent miscarriages, and moms who recently stopped breastfeeding. Alarmingly, 1 in 7 women experience postpartum depression, so this is a very common mental illness.
Women who suffer from mental disorders, such as anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder, are at an increased risk for postpartum depression. In addition, mothers who have a family history of mental illness have a higher chance of suffering from postpartum depression. Furthermore, moms who had postpartum depression in the past are 30%-50% more likely to develop it again if they give birth to more babies in the future.
Women who give birth to special needs babies (premature birth, illness, or medical complications), or challenging babies (cries often, are hard to comfort, and have irregular sleep or hunger patterns), are at higher risk for developing postpartum depression. Moreover, isolation, lack of social support, abusive relationships, and low socioeconomic statuses can give rise to postpartum depression in women.
How is postpartum depression stigmatized and how does it affect sufferers?
Despite postpartum depression being a common mental illness, the help-seeking rates remain low due to stigma and fear. According to Dr. Teri Pearlstein, Dr. Margaret Howard, Dr. Amy Salisbury, and Dr. Caron Zlotnick, “women with PPD are often hesitant to divulge their mood and anxiety symptoms to their clinician because of guilt of having symptoms when motherhood is expected to be joyful” (Pearlstein et al., 2009). Based on this information, it is evident that fear prevents mothers from getting medical or psychological assistance. Motherhood is constantly portrayed as an exciting component of life, but people rarely discuss the challenges and obstacles that parents face on a daily basis, which silences women with postpartum depression.
Kate Rope, who is a health journalist, advisory board member of the Seleni Institute, and an author of the book called Strong as a Mother, stated, “A lot of women are afraid to reach out for help for postpartum anxiety or depression because they’re worried people will think they are a threat to their baby” (Rope 2019). Clearly, the stigma that revolves around postpartum depression silences mothers and leads to isolation. To further support this idea, Teresa Wong, who wrote the book, Dear Scarlett: The Story of My Postpartum Depression, declared, “I’ve actually had some older women approach me after seeing an article or a television spot, women who had their children decades ago and were too afraid to tell anyone they felt this way because they thought their babies would be taken away from them” (Wong 2019). Mental illness is highly stigmatized in society, and this causes mothers to feel shame, guilt, and anxiety when internally battling with postpartum depression. This is a problem because instead of women receiving help for their struggles, they zip up their mouths and suffer in silence because they are afraid of experiencing judgment from society.
What are common myths regarding postpartum depression?
A common myth is that women who have postpartum depression are terrible mothers. The truth is that this mental illness is caused by neurological chemical imbalances, so it is out of the mom’s control and does not make her a bad parent. Furthermore, a myth from postpartum depression stigmatization is that women with postpartum depression harm their babies. In reality, if a mother with postpartum depression experiences suicidal thoughts, she is actually more likely to hurt herself rather than her child.
Another myth regarding postpartum depression is that the mental disorder starts right after birth. The truth is that it can start as early as pregnancy or as late as up to a year after childbirth. Additionally, a misconception is that postpartum depression is just the “baby blues.” As a matter of fact, mood swings are common after childbirth, but if negative emotions continue for weeks or months after the labor and delivery, it may be postpartum depression.
What resources are available for people with postpartum depression?
The following resources are available for postpartum depression sufferers:
SAMHSA’S National Helpline - 1-800-662-HELP (4357): a hotline for people suffering from mental and substance abuse disorders. This confidential service is available 24/7 for 365 days a year.
National Postpartum Support International (PSI) - helpline is (800) 944-4773.
National Parents Helpline - contact number is (855) 427-2736.
Support Group: Massachusetts Child Psychiatry Access Program (MCPAP) for Moms. Contact number is 855-Mom-MCPAP (855-666-6272).
Postpartum Progress: a non-profit organization that helps mothers with postpartum depression. This organization provides moms with a list of professionals who specialize in PPD, as well as support groups for all 50 states in America.
Postpartum depression is a large issue during motherhood. This health problem is not discussed enough in society due to major stigmatization, but as a future generation, we can normalize talking about mental health and start spreading awareness to help all the parents out there.
Written and Researched By KYLIE FITZPATRICK