by Kerrie Van Weelden, LMSW
When I talk to friends, family, and patients about the kind of work I do, they have asked: “Is Postpartum Depression Real?" It is quickly followed, by questions like: “Why does it happen? Are there certain women who are prone to experience this? Can’t they just buck up?” It is important to help dispel myths.
Depression or anxiety during or after pregnancy is real and is best described as a Perinatal Mood Disorder. This term best describes mood changes for women during and after pregnancy.
Pine Rest has served about 100 women since opening the Mother and Baby Program in December of 2012. For many women it is hard to ask for help. Some women initially call and then hang up. Others talk about how they have scoured our website for weeks before deciding to call. All patients report they talk to their moms, dads, pastors, sisters, husbands, boyfriends or partners looking for advice about what to do. What these key support people say matters so much. If they encourage an already guilt ridden mom, the mother is more likely to seek out help. Or, if they say (often well meaning) “I am sure in a day or two you will feel better,” they can discourage someone from seeking help even if the mom knows she needs it. These key support people have the opportunity to make it easier to call in dispelling this myth and acknowledging the reality.
What these women are experiencing and feeling is real. It is a real disease and like any other medical disease, there are treatments that help. The clincher of this disease, unlike other diseases, is that one of the symptoms of depression and anxiety is guilt. Not just guilt a person feels when they make a mistake, but guilt that feels unquenched by simple reassurances. So, when a woman’s feelings are dismissed by others, they are even more unlikely to have the energy to seek help or believe what they are experiencing is real.
The disease of depression and anxiety is as real as any other medical disease, like a heart condition, broken leg or diabetes. Without help there can be serious consequences.
One in five to eight women experiences mood changes during or after pregnancy. The risks of not getting help include worsening depression and anxiety and stress on marriage/relationships. Postpartum depression is the most common complication of pregnancy. Suicidal thoughts are a symptom of worsened depression. The World Health Organization, reports that women are at greater risk of suicide the year after they give birth than any other time of life.
What is a Perinatal Mood Disorder? It is a significant change of mood that can include depression, anxiety, increased energy (manic behavior) anytime during or after pregnancy. Symptoms can include irritability, change in sleep or eating patterns, obsessive worry or scary thoughts. For some women this is a complete change, they have never experienced anything like this. Other women have struggled with anxiety or depression before and it is worsened during or after pregnancy. Sometimes symptoms can also include suicidal or other scary thoughts or, in rare cases, psychosis. Psychosis can include strange feelings, altered sense of reality, paranoid thoughts, hearing voices or seeing things that aren’t there.
In all pregnancies, offer friends and family support. It is true this is a stressful time of life no matter what. Offer practical support. Wash the dishes, bring a meal over, or care for older children. Ask pregnant and postpartum women and new dads: “How are you feeling emotionally? How are you sleeping? How are you eating? Do you feel like yourself?” Then listen and validate both parents’ feelings. Let them know they are not alone and that other people feel this way. Depression or anxiety is never a sign of personal weakness or something you can “think your way out of.” Encourage her to get help (professional and family/friend) support and if needed, help her find help. Let her know with help she will feel back to herself again. When we tell women in our program “You will get better and feel like yourself again,” they cry, sometimes in disbelief. Depression, mood changes and anxiety cause extreme feelings of guilt and hopelessness. It is important to bring back hope and reality. It will help individuals feel like themselves again.
If you are experiencing these symptoms, know you are not alone. Other people may say things that don’t add up or aren’t true. Trust yourself. Get help when you are experiencing symptoms that have lasted up to two weeks and affect your functioning, ability to complete daily tasks and negatively affect relationships-including your baby. Get help today if you are experiencing symptoms where you don’t feel safe, don’t trust yourself or don’t want to be by your baby.
For more information about Pine Rest services, or to seek help, call Pine Rest at 800-678-5500.
Kerrie Van Weelden, LMSW is a social worker and case manager in the Pine Rest Mother and Baby Program and in the Contact Center.