Stigma & Need for Help: a Real Talk About Postpartum Depression
Postpartum depression (also known as PPD) is way more common than you might think. If you’re totally unfamiliar with the condition, it’s probably because America isn’t very good at talking about it. With more than three million cases a year (and an estimated 1 in 9 women affected), it’s so common that you likely know someone who has suffered from it.
There are a lot of emotions that come with bringing a new life into the world. In addition to hormonal changes, “baby blues” are common for new moms and can include crying, mood swings, and anxiety. PPD goes beyond just the blues though (lasting for two weeks or longer) and interferes with the ability for a mom to live her life. Crippling anxiety, delayed maternal bonding, and thoughts of suicide are all possible symptoms of this illness.
Stigma & the Fear of Asking For Help
There’s a stigma attached to motherhood… that even though it’s tough, it’s one of the “best times of your life”. Dealing with personal depression at the same time is not convenient when your whole life is supposed to be “about the child”. For this reason, so many women suffer silently. Actor Brooke Shields famously broke her silence in the spring of 2005, when she gave interviews to magazines and The Oprah Winfrey Show that publicized her battle with PPD. At her lowest point, she even considered jumping out of a window. With the help of antidepressants and therapy though, Shields was able to recover.
In addition to Shields, other celebrities have helped to shed light on PPD. Recently, model, cookbook author, and TV host Chrissy Teigen wrote a detailed letter in Glamour that pointed to a less severe but nonetheless serious case of PPD. “I was different than before,” she explained. “Most days were spent on the exact same spot on the couch and rarely would I muster up the energy to make it upstairs for bed.” In addition to physical symptoms, Teigen says that she was generally unhappy.
Before Teigen was officially diagnosed, she went to her general practitioner. “I looked at my doctor, and my eyes welled up because I was so tired of being in pain. Of sleeping on the couch. Of waking up throughout the night. Of throwing up. Of taking things out on the wrong people. Of not enjoying life. Of not seeing my friends. Of not having the energy to take my baby for a stroll.” After that visit, Teigen was relieved that she had an answer. Like Shields, her treatment currently involves antidepressants and therapy.
In the midst of Teigen’s long essay, she also acknowledges another stigma of PPD—the kind we only hear about in extreme cases. “Growing up in the nineties, I associated postpartum depression with Susan Smith, with people who didn’t like their babies or felt like they had to harm their children,” she explained. “I didn’t have anything remotely close to those feelings. I looked at Luna [her daughter] every day, amazed by her. So I didn’t think I had it.” It’s important to realize that many cases fall in line with Teigen’s experience. A woman doesn’t have to imagine hurting her child to have PPD. Sometimes, it falls on the opposite end of the spectrum. Singer Adele also suffered from it. For her, she was “obsessed” with her son—but she felt like a failure. “I felt very inadequate; I felt like I’d made the worst decision of my life,” she said. “It can come in many different forms.”
Getting Help and Feeling Better
There’s good news for those that are diagnosed with PPD, treatment can be very effective if properly diagnosed. “Part of the reason for lack of treatment is the fact that many physicians, including obstetricians and pediatricians, do not screen for PPD,” Postpartum Progress writes. This includes screening scales and a patient health questionnaire. They continue, “Another part of the reason is the stigma that exists that either prevents mothers for asking for help or in following through on treatments like therapy or psychiatric medication.”
If you think you might be suffering from PPD, the very first step is to trust your instincts and ask a professional for help. “It’s not a reflection on you or your baby,” Tamar Gur, M.D., Ph.D., told Glamour. “It takes a lot of courage to ask for help, and doing so is the opposite of being a bad mom—it’s being a good mom.”