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Understanding and Overcoming Postpartum Depression: Part 3
Is Postpartum Depression Underdiagnosed?
Terri Denton
wanted help, but it took months more to get an appointment. She called six psychiatrists and left a detailed message with each one. “I said I’m a new mother experiencing postpartum depression with psychotic features, I need to be seen, please call me back,” Denton says. “Five out of six places didn’t even call.”






"We need to let women know that mood disturbances during their life are not necessarily normal, and when they’re not, they can be treated.”

Shari Lusskin, M.D., a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at New York University’s School of Medicine

Once she got an appointment, another few months passed before medication brought relief. She’s diagnosed as bipolar, a mental illness that piggybacked on the postpartum depression that stunted her initial relationship with her baby.


“I never thought it would be over,” Denton says. “I thought I would be like that forever.”




Now Denton looks at pictures of Cameron when he was just weeks old and realizes that she didn’t care about “being a mother.” She repeatedly told her husband that he’d come to hate her, but he had faith. He also picked up the slack, Denton says. “He’d come home and play with Cameron at night knowing I hadn’t played with him much all day.”


“Now, I play with him, cuddle him, I love him,” she says. “It’s probably not what it should be, but it’s more than it was.”


Denton is recovering and hoping to return to work, but she’s reconsidering her plans to have a bigger family. “I don’t know if I had been treated more quickly that I would have changed my mind,” she says. “I’m 50 percent more likely to have it happen again and it was such a terrible experience.”


Flaws in the System
Why does our health-care system screw up when it comes to diagnosing and treating women with postpartum depression? Why must women wait months for the therapy and medication that can help?


Some trace the tragic state of care back about 100 years when the U.S. psychiatric community stopped looking at pregnancy-related mood disorders as a distinct entity. Research and training ceased, explains Shari Lusskin, M.D., a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at New York University’s School of Medicine.


NYU is among the minority in teaching reproductive psychiatry to its psychiatry residents and offering lectures to medical students and ob-gyn residents. Lusskin and her colleagues lecture about mood disorders during pregnancy and postpartum to physicians and students worldwide.


We’ve improved, says Lusskin, a specialist in reproductive psychiatry, but medical schools still aren’t doing enough. The reality is that doctors, clinicians and midwives have to learn so much information that it is almost impossible to prepare for everything.


An effective tactic is to go straight to the public, with seminars and health fairs. “We need to let women know that mood disturbances during their life are not necessarily normal, and when they’re not, they can be treated,” Lusskin says. “My goal is not to have women suffer in silence.”




p.3 l next: p.4 - Seeking (and Finding) Support


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