REVISED AS OF WEDNESDAY, MARCH 12, 2014, 9:30 PM EST
By now, you’ve probably already heard about the woman who drove her minivan into the ocean at Daytona Beach, Florida. Her three children–ages 3, 9 and 10–were in the minivan. And the woman was pregnant with her fourth child. When I first started reading the article, I was bracing myself to read about the tragic loss of four lives–actually, five lives if you count the unborn child–but thankfully, they did not perish in the ocean. From the little I could gather from the article, it seemed that the woman was suffering from psychosis, which is how bipolar disorder can manifest in a pregnant or postpartum woman. The 911 recording of her sister indicated that she was “talking about Jesus and that there’s demons in my house and that I’m trying to control her…..She’s, like, having psychosis or something.”
My friends and I cringed as soon as we heard about this story, just like we cringe when there is ANY news of mothers who attempt to kill their baby/children and themselves. We cringe because we know that the general population–the majority of people out there who are ignorant about postpartum mood disorders–seem ever so swift to condemn the mother’s actions.
I am sick and tired of the stigma. Sick and tired of the ignorance about maternal mental health. Sick and tired of women being failed by their doctors and by a medical system laden with holes that let all too many mothers fall through the cracks.
Are you sick and tired too? Well, join me now in signing a petition to implement universal mental health screening for every pregnant and postpartum woman. Let’s put an end to the stigma and ignorance, and get mothers the treatment they need before a perinatal mood disorder (PND)–a mood disorder during/after pregnancy which can affect up to 1 out of 7 new mothers–leads to tragic circumstances!
I have participated in/encountered several meaningful discussions on Facebook about screening over the past week. I know from the past 5 years of blogging and advocacy that, for every bunch of PMD survivors and advocates that voice their support for the implementation of universal mental health screening of pregnant and postpartum mothers, there is at least one individual voicing concern, and even opposing it. Why would anyone be opposed to the simple asking of a set of standardized questions to try to see if a mom might be experiencing symptoms of a PND, you ask? Well, these individuals are concerned that legislating such a screening would cause an already over-medicated society to fall deeper into the arms of Big Pharma and doctors even more reason to simply dole out medication prescriptions. These individuals fear that, in addition to inadequate experience with PNDs and an inadequate referral system to therapists who do have experience treating PNDs–both of which are entirely valid points, unfortunately–one too many moms will simply be prescribed medications (and sometimes the wrong ones, to boot) when what many moms do need is therapy as well. To make it more complicated, many moms will fear taking medications for fear of passing the medications on to their babies through their breast milk.
Whether we get the 100,000 signatures or not, the very least that we hope would come of this petition is to raise greater public awareness of PNDs and reduce stigma. If we were to reach 100,000 signatures, then there would have to be a federal law to INVESTIGATE the subject. If universal screening were to come about, it would be offered to all mothers, but mothers can opt out. There would NOT be a mandatory prescription doled out if a mother tested positive. The desperately sought outcome of the petition would, first and foremost be, EDUCATION of doctors to screen in a non-intrusive fashion, take thyroid levels into consideration, how to provide compassionate and nonjudgmental care, etc., as well as EDUCATION of mothers about PMDs and treatment options available if she were to experience a PND. It would be up to the mother how/if she would seek treatment.
Did you know that screening is routinely offered by many OB/GYNs already? I have not heard any negative experiences when it comes to screening that is offered to mothers today. A big Thank You to Karen Kleiman, MSW, LCSW, founder of The Postpartum Stress Center and author of numerous books on perinatal mood disorders for giving me permission to use this image, which I saw pop up on my Facebook feed a few days ago.
I would like to quote fellow Mama’s Comfort Camp member, Anna Tarkov (thank you, Anna, for letting me quote you!), in response to another member’s comments about preferring a cultural overhaul comprised of a national campaign to educate and support for new mothers over the implementation of universal screening…which don’t get me wrong, I absolutely agree with as well (we need all three: SCREENING, PUBLIC AWARENESS/EDUCATION, AND SUPPORT):
We can and should push the culture change [campaign to educate and support but with no screening] that needs to happen, but I just don’t know if it’s enough…..I share your concern for medication as a sole solution, but I feel we already have this situation with our medical system. Many conditions don’t require medication and could be treated in another way. Each patient is responsible for making up their own mind and each clinician should present all the options. I thought carefully about whether I should take medication as part of my treatment and I think I made the right call for myself. If someone else chooses another path, that is fine, but if even one life of a mother or child or innocent bystander can be saved if we were to have effective screening during pregnancy and after, I would consider that a victory…….My hope would be that with better screening, clinicians can also be required to provide a lot more beyond a diagnosis. I am cautious about any new proposed policy and often what we end up with is far from perfect. But my feeling is that doing nothing isn’t an option and any step in the right direction is a good idea.
You summed it up so nicely, Anna!
Oh, and do read and encourage others you know to read the facts, and nothing but the facts about bipolar disorder during pregnancy and postpartum. Here is just one of many places you can read up on it.
Please, please, please…..sign the petition and SHARE WIDELY. Let’s get as many signatures as possible! Tweet about it. Blog about it. Share about it on Facebook. Let’s be the change that we so desperately need for our mothers! Let’s make sure that no more mothers fall through the cracks. Thank you!