Dealing with the Shame of Postpartum Depression (PPD)
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.
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.
- Postpartum Depression - 4 Practical Tips
Fifteen to twenty percent of women suffer postpartum depression. There is not quick or miracle cures. Here are four practical tips to help a mother in her journey towards healing.
Postpartum Support International goal is to increase awareness among public and professional communities about the emotional changes that women experience during pregnancy and postpartum. PSI Coordinators provide support, encouragement, and informati
- Melanie's Battle: The Hidden Plague of Postpartum Psychosis
Guestbook for MelaniesBattle.org, a website devoted to raising awareness about Post-Partum Psychosis