You’d think the news that women are finally going to get screened for perinatal mood disorders would be met with a round of applause, right? After all, this means women and families will no longer fall through the cracks and will hopefully be able to get the help and support they need. Yet not everyone thinks this is good news. In response to the report, The New York Times best-selling author Marianne Williamson took to Facebook to tell her followers that the recommendation is simply a ploy to sell more drugs.
The truth is that 1 in 7 women will develop a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder like postpartum depression. Identifying and treating these women is crucial to public health because, according to the National Center on Children and Poverty and voluminous research, untreated postpartum depression and anxiety is “a stronger risk factor for child behavior problems than smoking, binge drinking and emotional or physical domestic abuse.” Untreated PPD can lead to cognitive development problems, poor performance in school, increased aggression and future psychiatric illness and substance abuse. And yet, fewer than 35 percent of moms with these illnesses ever receive treatment.
As someone who has made no secret of the mental health issues I face daily, I was infuriated with Williamson’s comments. How careless and hurtful, I thought. How damaging, stigmatizing and shaming. This woman has a massive social media following, and I could only think about her followers who were possibly secretly suffering with some form of perinatal mood disorder, now too afraid to go seek help because they would be seen as weak.
Here’s the truth. For many women, medication is what allows them to get up in the morning. It is what allows them to go make a healthy breakfast and actually have the appetite to eat it. It’s what allows them to go to that yoga class or take that jog around the neighborhood. It’s what allows them to meditate, or go receive acupuncture, or play with their kids or leave the house with clean clothes.
Is medication the right solution for everyone? Of course not. But for many women, it can be a lifesaver. That’s why I felt the need to push back against Wiliamson’s post.
Together with Postpartum Progress’ Katherine Stone, we started the hashtag #MeditateOnThis, which quickly spread like wildfire online. People used it to smash misconceptions, share their own stories and support others who were brave enough to share. The hashtag campaign is still ongoing, and both Katherine and I encourage anyone who wants to share their truths about postpartum mood disorders to go ahead and do so.
— Avital N. Nathman (@TheMamaFesto) January 28, 2016
— Andrea Eisen (@goodgirlgonered) January 28, 2016
Work at church. have access 2 faith leaders &resources 24/7. had severe PPA yrs ago. 1000s were praying 4 me. Meds saved me. #meditateonthis
— Beyond Postpartum (@BeyondPPD) January 27, 2016
— Alexandra Rosas (@GDRPempress) January 28, 2016
In response to our hashtag, Williamson had a variety of things to say. She said that we must have “acquiesced to Big Pharma” (in a top comment on this post). She then backtracked and, while trying to explain herself, asked for compassion toward herself. I’m sorry, Ms. Williamson, but my compassion is for the women who may now feel stigmatized because they need something more than love and meditation. My compassion is for the women’s lives who will be saved because of a wider screening process.
The red herring that WIlliamson is trying to put out there is that you can’t care about the problem of overprescribing in this country and support people who need access to medication. I have long ranted about the need for a better infrastructure for this country when it comes to families.
We need mandated, paid leave. We need paid sick leave. We need more support. YES. But we also need to suss out and support the women who need immediate help so they’re able to enjoy activities like meditation again. It’s a multilane highway toward optimum health, and all of these things can coexist with one another. So let’s #MeditateOnThis to find actual real, supportive ways to help new mothers.