Never Ending Fight Against the Stigma of Postpartum Mood Disorders

Yanno, I wasn’t quite sure what to post this week…that is, until I saw Katherine Stone’s post over on the University of Southern California’s Reporting on Health today.   

Let me preface my post by saying that awareness is an essential prerequisite to destigmatizing postpartum mood disorders–including postpartum depression (PPD), postpartum traumatic stress disorder, postpartum OCD and postpartum psychosis.  As I’ve said before, there has been more progress in public awareness in the past decade than all the years before that combined.  However, for every 2 steps made in the right direction, the media knocks us back by one BIG step.   Yes, the media.  This is why progress has been so painfully, unnecessarily and maddeningly slow.  Nothing gets me more steamed than people who–whether they mean to or not–say things that only contribute to, rather than dispel, the stigma of postpartum mood disorders. 

You’ve seen me post about people who make ignorant comments about PPD.  You’ve also seen me post about ABC’s Private Practice’s failure at depicting PPD in an episode last February.  You’ve also seen me–along with many other PPD survivors and advocates–sign a letter that Katherine Stone wrote to address a Time article that missed its mark with respect to PPD

This time, it’s a failed attempt on the part of Discovery Channel to accurately educate the public regarding postpartum mood disorders.  As part of Discovery Health Channel’s Baby Week, it aired a one-hour documentary titled “Postpartum Nightmares.”   Personally, I feel a bit turned off by the title of this show.  I’m not sure how many viewers would want to watch something educational that has a title like that.  For the viewers who did tune in, I’m fairly confident the documentary served to confuse them more than educate them.  What do I mean?  Well, just put it this way.  Just like printed media like newspapers and magazines are all about attention-seeking headlines just to sell more copies, I believe Discovery Health Channel came up with the “Postpartum Nightmares” title to get viewers to watch the show.   Consistent with the title, there seemed to be this over-emphasis on symptoms of other postpartum mood disorders  without educating viewers of the different types of perinatal mood disorders and their respective symptoms.  The end result is that people walk away from the show thinking “Oh my gosh, if that’s what it’s like to have a baby, then I better not have one!”  Or “All moms with PPD end up either having intrusive thoughts about, or actually succeed at, harming their babies,” which is completely wrong.   The end result is no better than the vast majority of people out there who believed, or still believe, that Andrea Yates suffered from PPD–when in actuality, she suffered from postpartum psychosis. 

Katherine points out that subject matter experts on perinatal mood disorders were consulted, and three PPD surivors were allowed to tell their stories, which is all great.  But when can we expect to see a TV show, documentary, or movie that succeeds at ACCURATELY telling the public about the different kinds of postpartum mood disorders that new mothers can experience?  When are they going to forget those attention-getting headlines and sensationalistic plots and depictions based on misconceptions and stereotypes–or what Katherine points out as horror movie editing, images and music, empty rocking chair theme, zooming in on a “gleaming, sharp and serrated knife” in the woman’s hand–and focus instead on facts that are based on the knowledge of experts in the field and actual women’s stories without the temptation to exaggerate scenarios to grab the viewers’ attention. 

There are so many women out there suffering from PPD with what I refer to as “non-sensational” symptoms like insomnia, anxiety, loss of appetite, panic attacks, inability to focus, loss of interest in most of your usual activities, inability to laugh, and overall impaired functioning.   Those were my symptoms.  Those are the symptoms of many of the women whose stories I’ve read about and of those who have shared on my blog.  Why can’t media focus on these symptoms?  What have they got to lose?  Oh, wait….without a sensationalistic title or filming techniques, they would be risking a lack of viewership.  Hey, even if the usual PPD symptoms sound “boring,” I am waiting for the day that some creative, intelligent and empathetic type–one who cares more about public awareness and destigmatization of mood disorders than the revenues they generate–will depict (based PURELY on facts from experts on the topic) the real deal about the different postpartum mood disorders (including PPD, postpartum and postpartum psychosis)–in a TV show, documentary or movie…oh, and cut out the dramatic, stereotypical effects.  

I CAN’T WAIT.

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12 thoughts on “Never Ending Fight Against the Stigma of Postpartum Mood Disorders

  1. dear mam pls help me ,me through gng through ppd apart frm all the symptoms,everysec i feel fainted it seems as if walls are shaking a lot n my bed is moving round,can u tell me is this also ppd i recently in july gave birth to a baby boy,n dnt know why i have started hating my husband a lot.i m unable to see things properly n dnt do anysort of work.pls advice me what is it

  2. UGH. I didn’t see the show, but it sounds like they missed a great opportunity to educate rather than sensationalize. Sad.

    Thanks for keeping up on all of this–we all appreciate your efforts!

    • Hi Laura,
      Thank you for visiting (and posting a comment on) my blog. I’ve been to your blog a number of times in the past couple of weeks. I love your blog. Look forward to our continued correspondence!
      All the best,
      Ivy

  3. Thanks for writing abou this Ivy. It’s not that there aren’t women who have intrusive thoughts, or women that end up with postpartum psychosis, but that’s all that is portrayed, as you said. They do that just to make the show more compelling, but I really believe it is a disservice. Instead, why can’t they share the spectrum of illness so that women will recognize what they are going through?

    • Hi Katherine,
      Thank YOU for giving me the idea to write about this. We are seeing progress thanks to your efforts, the efforts of PSI and other PPD advocates, but I have to say the progress feels like it’s merely inching its way forward. It’s getting really frustrating.
      Best,
      Ivy

    • Anonymous,
      Thank you for visiting my blog. It’s unfortunate that that show, which had good intentions seems to have done more harm than good. Have you seen a mental health practitioner? Intrusive thoughts are generally a symptom of postpartum OCD rather than PPD. If you need me to help you find one, please let me know.
      Take care,
      Ivy

  4. Bravo Ivy!!!
    The media really doesn’t care about destigmatizing anything…they care about ratings. It’s so sad. But people like you and Katherine and so many others out there are the REAL voice behind this awful illness. Even though it may seem small at times you all are truly making a difference in breaking down those barriers. I just hope that the women who watched it (I wasn’t one of them because I don’t recieve Discovery Channel) took it with a grain of salt.

    • Thanks, Kimberly! Hope you’re doing well! You seem to be doing a very good job yourself of being supportive of moms and bringing awareness re: PPD with your own blog! Keep it up! — Ivy

  5. You know, Ivy the day after that aired I had a woman contact me asking if she should have a baby because she is bipolar. Apparently she and her husband were wanting a baby but the show freaked her out.

    My DVR for some reason didn’t record it but I’m not too disappointed.

    • Hi Marcie,
      Lovely, just lovely. It’s reactions like this that should be shared directly with Discovery Health Channel. I’ll have to see if I can find a way to provide my comments on their site. Did you tell her to take what she saw with a grain of salt? I think you have another opp’y to see it if you want. If you check the Discovery Health Channel’s site, it lists more airings. I think it’s on again today.

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