Nothing will improve until troubled new moms find ways to reach out, says Jeanne Watson Driscoll, a nurse psychotherapist and co-author of Women’s Moods. “That’s the hardest call a woman will make,” she says. “My concern is how will that call be handled on the other end.”
By not validating a depressed mom’s feelings of anxiety or helplessness, physicians, family and friends exacerbate the problem, says Driscoll, who suffered from postpartum obsessive thought disorder and an anxiety disorder. Don’t assume that everything is fine, and don’t be judgmental, she says.
If you spend time with a new mom, watch for signs that indicate medical help is needed. Suggest that she call her obstetrician. You can also call the local hospital and ask for a referral to a postpartum depression support group or counselor.
Signs to watch for include:
· an ongoing lack of interest in the baby
· inability to rest
· no desire to eat
· uncontrolled crying
If you hear a new mother describe voices that are telling her to harm her children, that she’s not a good mother or that her child is never going to be well taken care of, call for immediate medical help. The mother is likely suffering from postpartum psychosis and needs hospitalization.
Needs Yet to Be Met
While it might seem like the incidence of PPD is growing, we’re actually just getting a little bit better about talking about it and treating it. But more progress is needed, says Sonia Murdock, president of Postpartum Support International. We need better education, increased funding and research into PPD, and more treatment and support programs.
First on the to-do list, Murdock says, is to win passage of House Resolution 2380, the Melanie Stokes Postpartum Depression Research and Care Act, now before the Energy and Commerce Committee. This legislation, named for the Chicago mother suffering from postpartum psychosis who jumped to her death in June, would fund PPD research and services. Three other women suffering from PPD, including one who gave birth to quadruplets, also committed suicide in the Chicago area this summer.
The appetite for change is growing, Murdock says. Last year, Congress passed a resolution that, among other things, suggested improved PPD education in the medical community and among all U.S. citizens.
Health-care providers aren’t immune from needing to learn more about PPD. Pediatricians need to ensure mom is well, and suggest she seek help if there’s any doubt. Hospitals should, at the very least, include information on PPD and its symptoms in a discharge packet. Denton suggests a routine questionnaire for all pregnant women that will elicit responses about past mental illness or depression.
There is hope, Kaufman says, especially with good prenatal screening and follow-up care. “When they’re on the road to recovery, people will say that they feel like a veil has been lifted,” she says.
Kane says she’s no longer depressed, she’s enjoying her child, and getting out of the house more. This fall, she plans to return to work. But she didn’t get where she is on her own.
“I’ve had Visiting Moms, a therapist, a psychopharmacologist, a new mom’s group, a postpartum group, and I’ve needed them all,” Kane says, quick to add her supportive husband to the list. “They freed me up to say, ‘OK, you’re somebody’s mother now. It’s not overwhelming anymore.’”