The conversation around postpartum blues and beyond has grown tremendously in the last few years. There are greater avenues of support, more questions are being answered, and more education surrounding postpartum emotional difficulties from healthcare and birthwork professionals.
And yet, moms still have a hard time reaching out for help.
Maybe it’s the chaos of a new baby, maybe it’s the stigma, maybe it’s the lack of education that leaves women believing they shouldn’t seek help. It feels like there may be many reasons not to speak up about their needs or to address their postpartum depression (PPD) or other postpartum mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs).
The truth is, support is out there. Knowledge is growing and the understanding of postpartum illnesses is changing. We can seek the help – let’s talk about how we get there.
The percentage of PPD diagnosis ranges from 6.5% to 20% of women – why is there such a large spread?
Often, the diagnosis of PPD relies on the new mom to self-report her symptoms, to be very vulnerable and honest about her feelings. After being in one of the most vulnerable and possibly one of the most stressful situations through the birthing process, being vulnerable about our mental well-being may not be easy. Therefore, new moms may not be willing to be open about these feelings or these symptoms.
After the flood of the birthing process, we are flooded with new emotions, hormones, and experiences. Frankly, it can be overwhelming to just be during this time – we’re reinventing our identity, meeting a new person, and our lives are completely changed! It’s a lot to take in! That may mean that we don’t have the vision or time and space to understand that our feelings are changing or that they’ve lasted for longer than anticipated. When the weeks fly by, we may not realize that we’ve been feeling down or terrified or overwhelmed for as long as we have. The first months are a busy time, full of adjustment – do we even know we’re symptomatic? And when we do, are we willing to share that?
There are layers of stigma that can hold moms back from seeking help. Not only do we see a general stigma and judgement for mental health in our day-to-day lives, there’s an additional stigma for postpartum mental illnesses. There’s an assumption that, as moms, we’re supposed to be thrilled to have a new baby! This is a new chapter of our lives, and a beautiful creation we’ve all waited nine months to finally witness, we’re supposed to be fully engaged and enamored!
So, when we don’t feel that we are, when sadness creeps in or paranoia knocks on our door, how are we supposed to be honest about that? It feels like it’s all our fault, that we’re shattering the perfect image of our new family, or new addition to our family. We can create internal stigma that leads us to suffering in silence, refusing to speak about it and therefore avoiding diagnosis. Silence also comes from our friends and family, who also expect new moms to be in the throes of joy.
Due to this, support people will often forget to ask a mom how they are or how they’re coping. Family and friends can assume that children and babies are a blessing, and forget that the birthing experience is taxing, exhausting, and takes a significant mental toll. If those around us aren’t willing to bring up the conversation or report what they’re seeing to healthcare professionals, we may not have accurate diagnosis.
Up to 85% of women experience a disturbance in their mental well-being – it isn’t just postpartum depression.
Luckily, there has been greater understanding and research of PPD as an impactful and important health issue. This also means that midwives, health professionals, doulas, significant others, partners, and all support people have access to learning more abut PPD and its symptoms. There is a greater chance of our support people seeing the symptoms before we do, and helping us to address these symptoms.
Not so luckily, there isn’t as much knowledge or research on other illnesses. Postpartum psychosis is seen much less often, and that may lead the general public to have less information about the illness. New moms are five times more likely to develop postpartum OCD, which has an incredibly high co-morbidity with PPD. A risk with postpartum OCD is being overlooked and thought of as just a symptom of PPD, instead of its own independent illness. Ultimately, there isn’t much conversation or exposure about PMADs. How are we supposed to know that we’re a little off, that these “issues” are actually symptoms of a PMADs that can be addressed, if we don’t even understand what the symptoms are? Not knowing that these symptoms have a name and can be addressed can cause moms to avoid seeking help – or even knowing they need it.
Hand-in-hand with lack of knowledge of PMADs comes the lack of knowledge of support for PMADs. Even if we’ve acknowledged that we’ve got the postpartum blues, or we’re recognizing that our symptoms are a little something more, we still have to take the steps to address these concerns. Finding the help can be incredibly overwhelming – because the mental health system is difficult to navigate anyway – and discouraging. How do we find a therapist that best suits us, that is going to understand what we’re going through? How do we find support and community?
Help is out there, available, and ready for you.
Yes, we’ve spent all this time talking about why it is that women and new moms aren’t seeking help, or are staying silent about their needs. Your concerns are valid, more common than you’d think, and there are solutions. The greatest part about discussing PMADs is directly fighting against stigma, and actively building community. We are not alone in feeling down, anxious, or fixated after birth or around birth. The more we discuss it, the more we learn, and the bigger the support network is. Women are sharing their stories, creating group support, and finding therapy every day – you can too.
Prevention is possible, too! Being knowledgeable about our own triggers, understanding our needs regarding stress, and knowing what support we need can help to prevent PPD. There are several predictors of PPD, and keeping ourselves and our support people (partners, birthworkers, family and friends) in the know regarding this research and the impact of these predictors can assist us tremendously. We can battle stress, we can seek support, we can engage in self-care, and we can speak up about our mental health.
Cherished Mom is proud to be a resource for education, understanding, and support. If you or someone you know is in need of help and support, please don’t hesitate to reach out to the mental health resources below:
PSI PPD HelpLine (call or text): 1-800-944-4773
National Maternal Mental Health Hotline: 1-833-9-HELP4MOMS (1-833-943-5746-667)
988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline: Dial 988