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Dealing with the Shame of Postpartum Depression (PPD)

Updated on November 1, 2016
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What is PPD?

Post-partum Depression (PPD) is a devastating illness that is no respecter of women, striking the rich, the poor, the ordinary and the famous. With no regular screening process for the illness, research for a cure and treatment is underfunded. The only legislation to treat PPD and educate society has been stuck in bureaucratic limbo since 2001.

PPD is broken up into three categories: after baby blues, postpartum depression and, the rarest form, postpartum psychosis. Symptoms can range from anxiety and exhaustion to insomnia, decreased appetite and fear of hurting the baby and even suicidal thoughts. PPD in its more severe forms can throw entire families into chaos.

It’s a chaos well understood by those who suffer PPD. According to research (Wood, et al), one of the pervasive themes identified by women who suffered PPD was the lack of support they received from health-care professionals and significant others. Research participants felt an exacerbating isolation and misunderstanding. “I was afraid it would never end and would go on and on, and I would never find anyone who knew how to help me,” was a theme commonly expressed by women in the study.

Who will help the women suffering PPD and what can society do to assist in efforts for better education and treatment of this disorder?

A Culture-bound Syndrome

First and foremost, the Western hemisphere could take lessons from other parts of the world when it comes to helping mothers through the postpartum period. This is where the role of society comes into play. The baby blues and moderate depression after childbirth are what Stern & Kruckman call a “culture-bound syndrome” meaning PPD is not widely found cross-culturally.

For instance, their research informs that in Spain, Latin America and the Caribbean as well as among Moslems, a 40-day postpartum period is common. During this period, the mother receives recuperative care, her activities are limited and her needs are met. Accordingly, the postpartum period in the U.S. is popularly defined as lasting two weeks. Many women return to work after six weeks and are expected to be happy and well-adjusted. It is these expectations from a predominantly independent culture that can make recuperation after childbirth hard for American women.

Research and Treatment

Researcher Dr. Katherine Wisner, has shared some amazing statistics – “… on a national average, one out of seven women has and will suffer some form of PPD after giving birth.” Wisner, who is director of Women’s Behavioral Healthcare at Western Psychiatric Institution and Clinic at the University of Pittsburgh, warned that PPD is a “very complicated disorder.”

Wisner, a grassroots researcher in the area, is very devoted to the cause and the need for more education and treatment options for sufferers. “This is an illness that takes away a women’s ability to access joy ... right at the time she needs it most,” Wisner said. She also noted that the Melanie Blocker Stokes Mothers Act is the “first major government initiative to pay attention” to the illness.

Although encouraging, Wisner stated that getting the research out of the labs and “to the practitioners who need to apply it in the real world” is one of the biggest issues surrounding PPD. Wisner’s concern is that medical treatment for PPD is hindered by a “fragmented system” that needs “further developed” in order for quicker and better treatment of mothers, some who are too sick to even call for help.

Erica Ploski would agree. Ploski is a professional counselor from NW Pennsyvlania. She not only treats women with PPD, she is also a survivor. “Counseling is one important resource for women and their extended families to utilize,” Ploski says, “in order to cope with and survive this mental health issue that largely goes unrecognized and untreated.” Ploski is passionate about the subject. “(Our) culture really needs to let go of the shame that surrounds this issue.”

It is these feelings of shame that can hinder a new mother from getting the help that she needs. That is why intervention is essential. Intervention involves health care providers (obstetricians, pediatricians, nurses and mental health workers) and significant others (family and friends).

A non-judgmental support system of family and friends offering practical support is a great place to start. For professionals, utilizing a screening tool such as the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale should be priority next to being alert to high risk factors such as anxiety, extreme ambivalence, history of depression, and concurrent life stressors.

In Conclusion

PPD is a complicated illness that deserves our attention both individually and as a society. Our most effective tools in this battle are acknowledgment and education followed by intervention, research and treatment. Treatment that is essential for mothers suffering in silence and shame. There is no room for ignorance because making a difference in the lives of women suffering postpartum depression involves a whole community.

On the net

To learn more about postpartum depression or H.R. 20, The Melanie Blocker-Stokes Postpartum Depression Research & Care Act visit the links below.


Symptoms of PPD Quiz (Answers provided by WebMD)


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    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 4 years ago from North Carolina

      Excellent information here that will be very beneficial to others. Many people do not understand the difficulties of PPD and that it is not a choice when it affects a woman. Thanks-rated UP/U/I

    • pitzele profile image

      pitzele 4 years ago from Pennsylvania

      I had a question for the author, vis-a-vis the connection between lactation and PPD. Do you have another hub which discusses in such wonderful detail the statistical information regarding the incidence of PPD during lactation?

      However, I was not aware that it could go so far as an acutal PSYCHOSIS. Wow. Thank you for this hub.

    • gsidley profile image

      Dr. Gary L. Sidley 4 years ago from Lancashire, England

      Interesting hub - voted up.

      The variations across cultures is informative, suggesting an important role for societal expectations and attitudes to the disorder. (The same variation is found in other mental disorders, such as schizophrenia).

    • pitzele profile image

      pitzele 4 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Just an FYI: In religious Judaism, family and friends bring the meals and do much of the work for the first week, so the new mother has time with her newborn and to heal.

    • carlajbehr profile image
      Author

      Carla J Behr 4 years ago from NW PA

      Thank you all for your coments. Much research is needed yet and I think we may be surprized at some of the correlations. Obviously, I think suffering in an independent culture must be different from suffering in an interdepedent culture. Truly, I think support from religious communities, family and friends proves most beneficial during the post partum period and is one of the most effective things towards faster healing. Look for more hubs from me on this topic forthcoming!

    • divacratus profile image

      Kalpana Iyer 4 years ago from India

      A whole lot of useful information here about Post Partum Depression. I have been meaning to read up on it soon but when I saw this hub thought of reading all about it from you instead. Excellent article. Thanks for writing this.

    • carlajbehr profile image
      Author

      Carla J Behr 4 years ago from NW PA

      Divacratus - thanks for reading. I hope the information was useful and informative. I am very interested in getting information out to the public about this illness. Thanks again.

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