Thank You, New York Times, for Your Recent Coverage on Maternal Mental Health

These past couple of weeks have been a blur of work and plans for celebrating a couple of milestones in my life.

A little behind, as I usually don’t blog about such meaningful news relating to maternal mental health a couple weeks after they occur, here I am today, taking a quick break from what I am working on right now to applaud the two-part New York Times focus on maternal mental health, the first of which was titled “Thinking of Ways to Harm Her: New Findings on Timing and Range of Maternal Mental Illness” and appeared on June 15, 2014 on the front page and the second part titled “After Baby, an Unraveling:A Case Study in Maternal Mental Illness” appeared the very next day.

Kudos to Pam Belluck, the reporter who wrote the articles and ensured they received such prime spots in such a major newspaper.   Ms. Belluck interviewed three mothers for the first article, and the second article featured the story of Cindy Wachtenheim, who after battling postpartum psychosis, ended her life on March 13, 2013.  Both articles mention Postpartum Support International (PSI), the organization I joined back in 2006 in my search for answers and information as I endeavored to write a book about my own experience with postpartum depression (PPD), which began in January 2005 and ended a few months prior to the first PSI conference I attended in June 2006.

A week ago, on June 23, 2014, an article appeared on HuffPost Parents titled “What the New York Times Got Right and Wrong About Maternal Mental Health” in response to the NY Times articles.  Very good points made by  Christiane Manzella, PhD, FT, supervision director and senior psychologist at the Seleni Institute including how, even though this two-part series in the NY Times was a step in the right direction, it was still a missed opportunity to educate the public on the common misconceptions of postpartum mood disorders.  For example, many cases of postpartum mood disorders actually begin during pregnancy (i.e., antenatal or antepartum depression) or up to a year after and is not strictly limited to the first weeks postpartum.  Also, the spectrum of postpartum mood disorders covers not only PPD, but postpartum psychosis as well, which is still not being diagnosed/treated correctly in all too many cases today…and unfortunately the disastrous outcome hits the news, like in the case of Cindy Wachtenheim.

I also wanted to highlight the June 21, 2014 Letters to the Editor submitted in reaction to the two-part series on maternal mental health.  Note the first letter written by Karen Kleiman, MSW, LCSW, founder of The Postpartum Stress Center.

Thank you, Pam Belluck and the NY Times for making these articles happen and putting them in the spotlight to bring more awareness about perinatal mood disorders to the public.  For too long perinatal mood disorders have been lingering in the shadows, remaining a topic that has evaded the understanding by medical/mental health practitioners and the public alike.

Every mother deserves to understand what perinatal mood disorders are, as well as how to know when to get help and who to go to for help without fear.  Fear of stigma.  Fear of any potential repercussions. People need to put aside these fears because things can get very bad very quickly if a mother does not seek help in a timely fashion, or gets the wrong diagnosis and/or treatment.

Every mother deserves to receive the right treatment and not be afraid to seek it.  As in my case and in all too many other mothers’ cases, time is of the essence in getting the correct treatment.  If I had gone much longer with my insomnia and panic attacks without the right combination of medications to treat them, I am not certain what would have happened.  I was in a very bad place for a few weeks, and I am ever so grateful for only losing a few weeks of precious time with my baby.  The outcome could have been so much worse.

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PPD in the Media this Week: A Postpartum Anxiety Survivor Story in the NY Times; JLo Rumors

Twitter helps make staying current on specific topics of interest a much easier thing to do.  Only problem is, there is SO much information to get through on a daily basis, and not enough time (and energy) for me to do it.  Tweets about postpartum depression (PPD) can tell you a lot in terms of people’s attitudes, swayed by knowledge or ignorance.

There are the tweets that tell you the latest in research findings.

There are the tweets that tell you when a major news outlet like the NY Times publishes an article written about a PPD survivor. An example would be the wonderfully honest piece titled “Meltdown in Motherland” in the Opinion section of the NY Times on May 14th, in which the author Elizabeth Isadora Gold shares her experience with postpartum anxiety.  The couple hundred comments (and you bet I scanned through all of them) that appeared over the course of the next 2 days were actually relatively reasonable and showed more knowledge, compassion, and appreciation for an author’s experience with a maternal mental health issue than some of the comments I’ve had the displeasure of seeing in the past.   Some commenters said they were upset by the harsh comments, but truthfully, I didn’t see any that angered me to the point that I’ve been angered in the past (thankfully).  Not sure if it has anything to do with the comment flagging mechanism or not (i.e., too many flags will cause a comment to get pulled).  But anyway, there was an individual who commented that he and his wife had suffered through a stillbirth and survived the grief  after nearly a year, without the use of any antidepressants…and how he is absolutely certain he (no mention of his wife, though) would not have needed to take any medications.  I replied to that comment as follows:

I wouldn’t be so quick to judge other people’s situations when you don’t even know what they are. There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for PPD. What works for one person may not work for the next person. Every individual is different, and every individual’s situation is different. Some women with PPD may only need medication, some may only need psychotherapy, while others may need a combination of both. The objective is to do whatever it takes in order to feel yourself again using whichever approach you feel most comfortable using. My insomnia, panic attacks and weight loss were so debilitating–and I couldn’t take care of myself or my baby–that I had to take medications to return my brain chemistry back to its normal levels.

And then there are the tweets that tell you how far from educated the public is with respect to postpartum mood disorders, or even just the difference between the postpartum blues and PPD.  An example would be recent rumors that Jennifer Lopez suffered from PPD after she had her twin boys simply because the public caught her being emotional and crying a few days after childbirth.  In her recent interview with E! Online, she quashed those rumors by explaining that her being very emotional 7-10 days after childbirth is the expected behavior of new moms due to hormones crashing after childbirth.  She said she learned that from reading the book “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” which has now been turned into a big screen flick soon to be released…and one in which she is co-starring.

Don’t mean to digress, but that is not a movie I’ll be rushing to pay $12 to see in the theaters.  Why?  Well, for one, the trailer looked too silly and sloppily produced for my taste.  Also, if you visit Lisa Belkins’ article from May 16th on the Huffington Post titled “The Pregnancy Book That Made Me a Nervous Wreck is Now a Movie,” you’ll see my sentiments exactly…no actually, Ms. Belkin verbalizes it a whole lot better than I could ever do.  Do I hear any others out there who agree that the book only increased anxiety levels with the information overload to the point that you stopped reading it, thinking (like I did), “Oh what the heck, I’ll just go with the flow…whatever happens, I’ll just deal with it then.”

I actually would’ve appreciated reading a book like mine during my pregnancy.  Ha, sorry, couldn’t miss the opportunity to mention my book “One Mom’s Journey to Motherhood,” which incidentally is not just a memoir, it’s a self help guide as well.  The health of the family unit is dependent on the health of the mother, so it is SO important that she goes into motherhood knowing what to expect in terms of pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period. This includes how to deal with certain challenges in infant care, keeping stressors to a minimum, and getting plenty of support.  My book contains advice in the form of Do’s and Don’ts for the new mother, the new father, family members and friends. I even share my experience with child-care complications like colic, eczema, and cradle cap—things that can only add to the anxiety levels of the first-time parent, yet pregnancy books and magazines don’t talk enough about.

Well, running across the two tweets that told me about the false JLo PPD rumor and the wonderful story in the NY Times are but random examples of the many, many other tweets that are tweeted on a daily basis.  Those 2 tweets gave me enough to get the juices flowing in my mind of what I wanted to blog about next.  I would love to be able to stay on top of all the tweets that come up in my feed each day, but with all that’s going on in my life right now, it’s just not possible.