If You Are A Mother, Know A Mother or Have A Mother, You Need To Know About Postpartum Mood Disorders

10 years ago

How much do you know about postpartum mood disorders?  In part because of the tragedy of Andrea Yates drowning her children, Brooke Shields writing a book about her experience, and Tom Cruise mouthing off to Matt Lauer, postpartum depression has gotten a lot more notice in the media these days.  But there's much more to it than what you hear on TV or read in the gossip mags.  And much of what you do hear -- surprise! -- is sensationalized and uninformed.

Hello fellow BlogHers!  My name is Katherine Stone and I'm excited to join you as a guest editor on the topic of postpartum mood disorders.  Despite increasing awareness, many women know very little about them, and many new mothers who fall ill do not understand what is happening to them.  Even if they do, they're afraid to speak up because of the stigma of mental illness.  What if someone takes their children away?  What if people judge them as unfit mothers and terrible human beings?  Would you speak up about up about mental illness while at the same time the people around you are making fun of Britney Spears and astronaut Lisa Nowak (labeled by the gleeful media as the "Astronut")?  It would certainly make you think twice.  And if you did decide to reach out for help, who could you trust and where should you go?

First, some facts.  Approximately 500,000 women suffer from a postpartum mood disorder every year in the United States alone.  Comparatively, each year approximately 240,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with breast cancer.  Postpartum depression (PPD) is only one in a spectrum of perinatal mood disorders.  These include antenatal depression (depression during pregnancy), PPD, postpartum OCD/anxiety, postpartum psychosis and postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder.  Each manifests itself slightly differently and may require different types of treatment for recovery (to learn more, go to Postpartum Support International).  If you haven't been told about all of them -- and most women aren't -- then you might not know that you have one, or what to do about it.

I suffered postpartum OCD in 2001 after the birth of my first child, and since I'd never heard of it and my symptoms were different than PPD I didn't think I had a postpartum illness.  I thought I'd just gone plain crazy.  I hoped whatever it was would just go away.  It didn't.  I wasted many weeks in despair rather than speak up.  I didn't want anything to be wrong with me, I didn't want to be labeled with a mental illness, and I certainly didn't want to take the "dreaded" psychiatric medication.  When I finally did decide to ask for help, I found out that lots of doctors know as much about treating these illnesses as I did: zilch.   In this day and age it is hard to imagine, but many healthcare providers are not trained on how to properly identify and treat postpartum mood disorders.  Thousands of women continue to suffer even while in the care of a physician, and they don't realize they have other options.  I know because of the hundreds of women I've spoken to across the country via my blog Postpartum Progress, the most widely-read blog in the U.S. on postpartum mood disorders.

Women MUST speak up, reach out for help, and be able to recover as soon as possible in the hands of competent physicians.  These are devastating illnesses, robbing many of us of the joy of new motherhood and causing severe emotional distress.  And they have a much wider impact than you may think.  They often put a strain on the relationships between new mothers and their partners, and they can affect bonding with the baby as well.  Many recent studies show that children of mothers with postpartum mood disorders who go untreated for long periods can be negatively impacted over the long term with behavioral problems.  A study published in 2006 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, for instance, found that children of mothers who have received treatment via medication for major depression or anxiety are less likely to be diagnosed with anxiety, disruptive and depressive disorders themselves, compared to the children of women who remain untreated.

Perhaps you're finding that you didn't know as much about this stuff as you thought.  Perhaps you've felt you didn't need to learn much about it.  But I hope you'll be willing to learn.  Every other week, I'll be talking with you about these illnesses and connecting you with some of the very beautiful and amazing women who've gone through them, many of whom are BlogHers too.  If you never need to use this information for yourself I say amen!, but perhaps one day you'll be able to help someone close to you -- a sister, a friend, a co-worker -- because you made an effort to learn and understand.

This is an article written by a member of the SheKnows Community. The SheKnows editorial team has not edited, vetted or endorsed the content of this post. Want to join our amazing community and share your own story? Sign up here.

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