Why is it still so damn hard for moms to find help for postpartum mood disorders?

We are in the 21st century.  It is now 2017.  We have someone leading the country and the GOPs in trying to make it even harder for people to get access to healthcare, and in particular, mental healthcare.  Check out the articles “How Trumpcare Will Affect Moms Fighting Postpartum Depression” and Psychology Today’s “How Trumpcare Will Affect Mental Health Care.”  But we mustn’t let such ignorant, selfish and typically capitalist initiatives impede progress.  We must never stop resisting any initiative to make conditions worse, to stop forward momentum!

It is 2017 and I am asking the question so many of the other attendees of last week’s Postpartum Support International (PSI) conference are asking: Why is it still so damn hard for moms to find help to treat their postpartum mood disorders, like postpartum depression (PPD), postpartum psychosis (PPP) and postpartum OCD?  A common theme across the training sessions offered at the PSI conference, and a common topic of my blog, is the fact that there are mothers seeking help across the country daily, and we may have names of therapists or social workers, but in many cases, these professionals aren’t anywhere near where the mothers are located.  Or there’s the issue of affordability.  Or when the professionals can see a new patient (could be weeks).  Or how about there just aren’t enough professionals who can see new mothers suffering from postpartum mood disorders, period.

A recent article by Crystal Edler Schiller, PhD, assistant professor in the Center for Women’s Mood Disorders and Department of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, titled “Maternity mental health care should be accessible” highlights the issues.

Although the numbers of professionals is increasing slowly over time, there is just not enough of them to treat the actual numbers of mothers needing care.  Many PSI members are social workers, registered nurses, peer group supporters, psychologists and psychiatrists, which is great.  But the numbers of people in these roles throughout the country fall pitifully short of the help that’s actually needed.   So many mothers suffer in silence, and you only really hear about the ones who openly discuss their experiences via social media (like me) or other articles or in the news.  Or you hear about the mothers in the news who weren’t able to get the right help and their illnesses led to their deaths and/or death of their babies.

I’m fortunate that I’m in New Jersey, a state that mandates screening for PPD and has a state initiative called “Speak Up When You’re Down.”  We also have The Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder Center at Monmouth Medical Center, the very first center dedicated to maternal mental healthcare in the state, which I blogged about previously.  A group of PSI members in New Jersey have come together to form a PSI-New Jersey chapter.  These members meet monthly and we discuss the support they provide mothers via their own practices and/or via the Partnership for Maternal & Child Health of Northern New Jersey, Central Jersey Family Health Consortium, and the Southern New Jersey Perinatal Cooperative. My own experience with PPD pre-dates all of these initiatives, and needless to say, there was a whole lot more ignorance back in 2005.  It’s truly satisfying to see these initiatives take root, with more in the works.  However, this is just New Jersey and as far as I’m aware, only California, Massachusetts and Illinois have similar screening and care initiatives in place and/or in development.  There are 47 other states who are extremely behind when it comes to maternal mental healthcare.

The slow change I’ve seen just in New Jersey alone over the past 12 years since I suffered from PPD is unacceptable.  You would think that all therapists know how to diagnose and treat mothers suffering from a postpartum mood disorder.  Unfortunately, they don’t.

How do we speed up progress?  We need funding to make the printing of pamphlets/flyers available in ALL doctor’s offices that could potentially see new mothers (i.e., OB/GYNs, family doctors, general practitioners, pediatricians).  Medical schools must mandate that all training programs for all healthcare professionals (i.e., doctors, nurses, social workers, therapists) include a minimum of a semester in maternal mental health conditions and are led by PSI educators, and without these programs people cannot obtain their degrees/licenses.  Unless we start putting these measures in place, we are not going to see any significant improvement in addressing the scores of mothers needing help in our lifetime.

I’m going to leave you with the last sentences of Dr. Schiller’s article, which makes the common sense statement that, thanks to ignorance due to stigma, is all too often taken for granted by all too many people, healthcare professionals included:

Let’s dispense with the outdated idea that the body and mind are separate, which is at the foundation of decisions to pay for physical but not mental health care. Mental health is physical health, and our bodies and our babies are only as healthy as our minds.

 

 

 

The Recovery Letters

I just realized I haven’t posted for over a month, since the end of May!  Wow, where did June go?!  I posted on Facebook not long ago that I vowed to somehow make the most of the summer–my favorite season–because before you know it we will be in depressing winter again.

This is just a quick post on this sunny Saturday in July.  With only 13 days to go before the official release of the book The Recovery Letters, edited by James Withey and Olivia Sagan, I wanted to let you know that I had written a letter that is included in this anthology meant to give hope to those suffering from depression.  The book is published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers, and the book is available on a pre-sale basis via Amazon UK.

Recovery Letters

I am so honored to be included in this anthology.   Thank you, James, for giving me this wonderful opportunity to let my voice be included in this collection of letters written by folks far and wide….folks of different ages and stages in life that share a common bond: depression.

Depression is more common than you think.  Visit the WHO factsheet about depression to learn about it and to learn just how prevalent it really is.

Just to be clear, this is not a paid venture….my whole name is not even included in the book.  But I don’t care.

I want to help others, to make a difference in the lives of others.

I want to provide the kind of help I didn’t get when I was suffering and feeling all alone in what was happening to me.

I went into that experience not knowing what was wrong with me and why.

I went from not understanding what depression is like one day to the next day experiencing the following firsthand:   Insomnia, panic attacks, rapid weight loss, and not being able to control how I felt / *snap* out of it / pull myself out from the darkness that was engulfing me and dragging me into the pit of despair and feelings of hopelessness that I would never be myself again.

Knowing you’re not alone in a very isolating condition like depression can make a world of a difference for those who are suffering from it, which is why The Recovery Book will be good for so many people to read.

I am truly excited for James, as he has been collecting these letters since 2012.  I know what it’s like to dedicate many years toward a work of passion and to finally see it come to fruition.

Congrats, James!

Wrapping up Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month: Interview with Lindsay Lipton Gerszt on the Documentary “When the Bough Breaks”

Introduction:

When the Bough Breaks follows the journey to recovery for Lindsay Lipton Gerszt.  It also includes interviews of celebrity mothers (i.e., co-producer Tanya Newbould, Carnie Wilson of Wilson Phillips, celebrity chef Aarti Sequeira, Peggy Tanous of The Real Housewives of Orange County), interviews with other mothers, subject matter expects on postpartum mood disorders (like Diana Lynn Barnes, whom I know), and those who helped Lindsay during her recovery (including her doula, her therapist, her acupuncturist, her OB/GYN).

The film is educational in that it touches on the statistics of postpartum mood disorders and what they are, importance of social support, risk factors, importance of screening new mothers, treatment methods, and the stigma/shame surrounding such disorders…..fundamentally, the same elements that are covered in my book.

The film encourages mothers to speak up and share their experiences, and seek help as soon as they feel something isn’t right.  There should be no shame in being sick with a postpartum mood disorder.  It is not your fault.  It is your body’s physical reaction to your childbirth experience.  The more mothers share their experiences, the less stigma there will be.

I smiled when I saw my lovely friends, Jane Honikman, founder of Postpartum Support International and Postpartum Education for Parents (PEP) and Walker Karraa.  Tears flowed when I listened to the tragic stories, one of which I had blogged about previously (Naomi Knoles). One of my favorite lines from the film referred to PPD as a “sickness of the brain, which is an organ of the body.”  If the public and healthcare folks all treated PPD this way, we would be leaps and bounds ahead of where we are today.  My hope is that one day, the diagnosing and treating of PPD will be as routine as diabetes.  The film ends very much like how my book ends.  There is hope, as there is progress thanks to efforts of many of the folks mentioned in the film.

I know what it’s like to be impassioned to share your experience so that other mothers don’t feel as alone, hopeless and caught off guard as you do.  My 429-page book has no doubt scared a lot of people away from buying and reading it, and I haven’t done a whole lot to market it.  But at least I have my blog, which reaches people via Internet all over the world.  For many people, images and movies have a greater impact.  You just sit back and take it all in.  Now that it’s available on Netflix, the film is available among all the other movies that could potentially be seen by the 94 million subscribers, which is a really huge deal.  And with Brooke, Carnie, Aarti and Peggy’s names attached, the film will surely draw in many, and hopefully, many more people will now have an awareness of postpartum mood disorders and as a result, more mothers with PPD will recognize when it’s not the blues and seek help sooner.  And hopefully, the film will help decrease the stigma associated with maternal mental health conditions like PPD, postpartum psychosis, postpartum OCD, etc.

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Lindsay, I’m sure you have heard repeatedly about how wonderful this film is.  It is ground breaking.  It is educational.  It is chock full of information that is so important to share with the public.  Thank you for taking the time to participate in this Q&A on my blog!

Question 1:

When did the idea of filming your experience with PPD first come up? Was there a light bulb moment for you?  What was the pivotal moment that turned your desire to write your story into reality?  For me, there was a specific what I refer to as “light bulb moment.”  Tom Cruise’s words “There’s no such thing as a chemical imbalance” in 2005 was my light bulb moment to write a book about my PPD experience. Incidentally, seeing him included in When the Bough Breaks flashed me back to how I felt when he uttered those infamous words. It was my experience with PPD, combined with childcare complications and lack of social and practical support, that motivated me to write my book One Mom’s Journey to Motherhood.  My mission was to help other mothers realize they were not alone in what they were experiencing and not the only ones seeking practical tips in dealing with childcare complications (e.g., colic, eczema, cradle cap, which I had no idea how to address as a first-time parent), so new moms wouldn’t be as anxious and in the dark as I was on how to cope with these types of issues.

Answer 1:

Director and Producer, Jamielyn Lippman, and Producer, Tanya Newbould, had the idea to make a documentary about PPD.  They put an ad in a mommy blog and I responded, as I felt ready to share my story.  At the time, my son was only a few years old and I was still suffering greatly.  After my interview, Jamielyn reached out to meet with me.  We decided to continue the journey of making When the Bough Breaks with the three of us, and I came on as a producer.

We knew that, in order for this film to really resonate with the audience, we needed to follow someone on her journey.  We needed someone that people could root for and connect with.  When we first started talking about who we wanted this person to be we didn’t have to think further than myself.  I craved to feel better and I realized that I was so far from recovery.  It was also the perfect opportunity for me to seek out different treatment options and to further educate myself on perinatal mood disorders.

What I did not know at the time was how big of an impact making this film would have on me.  The emotions I felt while filming were real, raw and intense.  I had anticipated to “hurt” while sharing my journey but what I experienced through filming was life changing.

 

Question 2:

Can you give a brief overview of what the film is about ?

Answer 2:

When the Bough Breaks is a feature-length documentary about PPD and postpartum psychosis.  Narrated and executive produced by Brooke Shields, this shocking film uncovers this very public health issue that affects one in five new mothers after childbirth.  The film follows Lindsay Gerszt, a mother who has been suffering from PPD, for six years. Lindsay agrees to let the cameras document her and give us an in-depth look at her path to recovery. We meet women who have committed infanticide and families who have lost loved ones to suicide.  Babies are dying, women aren’t speaking out, and the signs are being missed.  When the Bough Breaks takes us on a journey to find answers and break the silence.

 

Question 3:

Is there anything in particular you’ve learned as a consequence of capturing your story and these other people’s stories on film?

Answer 3:

I have never learned more about myself, human nature, pain and love as I have with making When the Bough Breaks. I have always suffered from depression but to suffer while having to take care of a baby made me realize how strong I am and what I am capable of.  I also learned that you cannot judge anyone!  Everyone has a story to tell and we must learn from each story no matter how painful it is to listen.  As hard as it was to make this film, it was life changing and I would not take it back for anything in the world.

 

Question 4:

Who should watch the film, and why?

Answer 4:

When the Bough Breaks is not just a film for mental health professionals.  It is a film for everyone.  Since up to 1 in 5 new mothers will suffer from a perinatal mood disorder, everyone will know someone at some point who is suffering.  We need to know what signs to look out for and how to give the support that those whom are suffering so desperately need.  We need to know what treatment options there are and how those treatments work.  Most importantly, we need to keep talking about this very serious illness and fight the stigma that is attached to it.  With When the Bough Breaks being available in 64 countries, now we have a big opportunity to work with other advocates to keep this important conversation going and reach a huge audience that otherwise does not know anything about PPD.

 

Question 5:

What was the most challenging part in the process of filming this documentary?

Answer 5:

For me, filming the interviews that dealt with postpartum psychosis were the most challenging part of filming When the Bough Breaks.  As producers, you are there to tell a story.  However, when you meet and get to know the many people being interviewed in the film, you start to care for them on the deepest of levels because we are sharing this experience and journey together.  To see their pain in telling their stories–whether it was a mom who suffered from postpartum psychosis, her partner or the children who were affected by it–was very intense and heartbreaking for me.  I personally became very close to Naomi Knoles and her family.  When we lost her, we were devastated but it also made us work even harder to make sure the film reached as many people as possible so her story could be heard and help others.

 

Question 6:

Do you plan to screen this movie in major cities, and if so, is there a schedule?  Is there a plan to get OB/GYNs to watch this movie?

Answer 6:

We have just signed two educational deals that will help get the film out in markets to which we would not normally be able to reach out on our own.  We have also set up a screening license on our website so that organizations and communities can screen and share the film. We need the film to reach as many hospitals, OB/GYNs, pediatricians and any other organizations that work with new mothers, and I am and will continue to work hard to make sure that happens. The screening license can be found here https://www.whentheboughbreaksfilm.com .

 

A Reminder to New Moms: Get Outside As Much As You Can

If you’re a new mom and seeing this blog post, then I’m glad, cuz this post was written with you in mind!

There is a reason–actually, reasons–why people say you need to get outside as much as you can after you’ve recovered from childbirth.

Sunlight is good for you.
Click here for a post about the benefits of sunlight.

PLUS

Fresh air and exercise are good for you.  Being cooped up is NOT good for you.  
Refer to my past post “3 Pieces of Basic Advice for the New Mom.”
Exercise can be as simple as walking around your neighborhood (or in a mall in bad weather) to get that circulation going…and of course, brisk walking is better and once you feel up to it, jogging  is great for burning some of the pregnancy weight off.  Being cooped up paves the way to increased feelings of isolation, which feeds depression, negative thoughts and even a bit of agoraphobia–all of which happened to me when I got hit at 6 weeks postpartum with PPD.  I’m not saying that being cooped up for long periods of time will definitely lead to depression, negative thoughts and agoraphobia, but nothing good comes out of seclusion after you’ve had a baby. We are social beings that need a certain amount of interaction with others.  Just being around people, but not necessarily interacting to a great degree with any particular person(s), has its benefits.  Social support is a whole other matter that I’ve blogged about a lot in the past.

Of course, all this stuff is purely common sense, but with the whirlwind that makes up the first postpartum weeks, a first-time mother that doesn’t have a baby expert (doula or relative) helping out will need these reminders that self care is just as important as baby care.  If you’re anything like the overwhelmed and exhausted wreck that I was after I left the hospital 7 days after I gave birth and experienced childbirth complications, the basic necessity of getting outside will fall by the wayside all too easily.

By doing this for you, you are also doing this for the baby.

A healthy mom means a healthy baby.

 

 

ONE MOM’S REFLECTION FOR MOTHER’S DAY

This is a post a mom wanted to share on my blog anonymously.  Thank you, mama, for sharing your experience!  ❤ ❤ ❤

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To think of moments like this that I would have missed had I just given up. If I had let the mental illness win.

After my twins my postpartum depression/postpartum anxiety (PPD/PPA) was severe.

Paralyzed by a sudden sense of worthlessness, hopelessness and fear of everything, I panicked.

Intrusive thoughts told me I was not good enough and that my kids were better off without me. I told my husband to leave me. I was scared to touch the twins for fear I would somehow hurt them or that I was ruining them.

This was at the time I felt it in my heart and soul something was majorly wrong with G and I blamed it on myself.

I was overwhelmed with two colicky twins. They cried all the time and I felt like a failure that I couldn’t soothe them. Fast forward they have sensory issues G with autism and S with ADHD. they have had a very hard time regulating themselves and have come a long, long way.

If I could wish one thing for all mothers is that please don’t blame yourselves.

Be mindful. Baby yourself just like how you baby your children. Be kind to yourself.

I was beyond hard on myself and it took its toll. It left me fragile and fearful and broken.

But I’ve always been a fighter and I’ve done everything I could to power through that time and learn how to live all over again.

It began with loving myself.

In June 2013 I was so traumatized by the panic attacks that the panic made me want to end it all. I called an ambulance to come save me from myself. That day on I’ve only marched forward. I’m mindful to my surroundings. I don’t blame myself for the struggle that my babies have faced with their development.

I am an excellent mom. I am worth it. They are worth it. So much that I gave it all another chance when I had R knowing that I faced a chance of a relapse with PPD. But with incredible support I did it and I’m still doing it.

I love my sweet family, my friends, my life.

I believe in second, third, fourth chances.

There is always room for improvement and to make things better and life is very much worth living.

Everything that happens to us makes us stronger.

I will never hide what happened to me from my children, especially my daughters.

It’s okay to fall down.

What matters is we keep going and with a good heart.

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Happy Mother’s Day 2017

Dear Mama-

If you’re visiting my blog, I just want to let you know that you are not alone in your postpartum experience.

You may feel like you are alone.  But you aren’t.

I am a PPD survivor.  There are MANY PPD survivors.  I am here for you.  There are many PPD survivors out there for you.

I love analogies, and I’m going to use one here.  I have pansies outside on the deck that I never expected to make it all winter with the cold, snow and ice, but it DID make it.  I covered the plant with a plastic food container to prevent it from getting crushed by snow/ice and to protect it from the below-freezing temps and wind.  I visited it, touched the one or 2 flowers that endured during the winter, and spoke to them (never thought I’d ever be a flower whisperer, but here I am) as much as I could.

Here are the persistent pansies that failed to let the elements prevent them from standing tall.

And here are the pansies today!  

You will get through the sleepless nights due to your anxiety, insomnia, feelings of helplessness.  Just like the pansies surviving was doubtful, they were able to persist because they received care and support.

I made it, without even knowing that what I had was PPD.

I made it through with crappy bedside manner from both my OB and doctor.

I made it with no support from anyone else around me except for my husband. I’d never heard of anyone having PPD before.

I didn’t know about Postpartum Support International (PSI).

I wasn’t on the Internet much back then.  It was 2005. I wasn’t on Facebook or Twitter.

I wasn’t referred to any therapists who specialize in PPD.  I didn’t have a support group, either.

But I made it.  And YOU WILL TOO.

If you are reading this and you are suffering and don’t have any idea how to get help, please leave me a comment.  I will respond and try to help you find resources to help you get through this.  You can also go to the PSI website for phone and local resources.

There was a blog post from fellow PPD survivor, Andrea Bates, author of the blog “Good Girl Gone Redneck” featured on the PSI website on World Maternal Mental Health Day this past week that I want you to visit if you haven’t seen it already.  Please check it out.  She’s a wonderful writer.  I wish I could write like her.  She also wrote 3 blog posts leading up to Mother’s Day this past week that you should also check out.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mama!

Love,
Ivy
❤ ❤ ❤

The First Center of its Kind in New Jersey

As I mentioned a few days ago, I took the day off because  I needed to witness the grand opening of the very first center of its kind in my home state: The Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder Center at Monmouth Medical Center.

 

 

 

 

 

After paying this center a visit personally and hearing about the immensely positive impact it has had the past 6 years since Lisa Tremayne first endeavored to provide a place for mothers suffering from postpartum depression (PPD) to go to for help, I am just so, so amazed and have such tremendous respect for Lisa and for the staff.

 

 

 

 

There were many mothers/babies there that were there to celebrate with Lisa and the amazing staff.

 

 

 

 

 

Robert Graebe, MD (Chairman of the OB/GYN Dept) kicked off the ceremony.

 

 

 

 

 

Followed by Mary Jo Codey who recounted her personal experience with PPD so long ago.  I’ve heard her speak what must be a dozen times by now, but hearing her wrenching experience from when she suffered from severe PPD in the 1980s and a second time in the 1990s always serves as a reminder of how far we’ve come and yet how much further we still need to go when it comes to helping new mothers realize when and how to get help, helping doctors correctly diagnose and treat PPD.  She wrapped up her speech with a statement about how grateful she is for the existence of this center and how we need to make sure more centers like this open up in New Jersey.  Click here  and here for articles posted earlier today that include pictures and video clips.

After the former First Lady’s speech came Lisa Tremayne who gave a brief history of the center and how it has been helping mothers since 2011 and then introduced PPD survivors Meg Santonacita, Luciana Mangyik, and Carolyn Stack, each of whom shared their experiences and how the center helped each of them to recover.

 

 

 

 

 

After the speeches came the ribbon cutting ceremony!