The Every Mother, Every Time White House Petition: What It Means

Okay, today was a reaaaaaally rough day at work.  I got home around 8:15 pm.  Missed a woman’s club meeting I was planning to attend.  Was able to see my daughter for a little over an hour before having to put her to bed.  I’ve had 5 hours of sleep for the past few nights straight.

But…. I am making this post a priority.

My last blog post was written and published 2 days after Ebony Wilkerson drove her minivan into the ocean at Daytona Beach, but I have since updated it with new information relating to the White House petition, Every Mother, Every Time that was subsequently created.  There are now nearly 1500 signatures to the petition, and we need 100,000 to mandate a national conversation about perinatal mood disorders (PMDs) and how we can help prevent mothers like Ebony, Miriam Carey, and Cynthia Wachtenheim–these are just some of the tragedies that took place here in this country in the past few months (the list goes on)–from having to fall through the cracks.  With an occurrence of PMDs of approximately 1 out of 7 new mothers, people like the amazing Dr. Walker Karraa are tired of the status quo of being reactive.  It’s time to be PROACTIVE!

Dr. Karraa had a Q&A interview with Every Mother Counts, founded in 2010 by none other than Christy Turlington.  Click here for the Q&A.    Dr. Karraa also guest posted today over at healthyplace.com about the petition.  Click here to read it.  Please take a few minutes to read both pieces so you can learn what the petition is hoping to accomplish and why.  Don’t let any preconceived notions or fears that you may have keep you from opening your eyes and making a judgment for yourself.

You’re probably wondering why you haven’t heard about this petition via more media outlets, organizations, blogs, and other social media.  I can’t say that I understand why.  Perhaps they feel that 100,000 is unattainable and therefore not worth the effort?  Or this is a conflict of interest of some sort (not sure how that could possibly be the case because this is about advocating for increased public awareness and resources to treat and support new mothers suffering from PMDs)?  Or for some of the other reasons mentioned in the two Walker Karraa pieces.

Whatever the case may be, I want to just say that, if there is an opportunity for a conversation to be brought to the forefront so that more OB/GYNs–those who have dedicated themselves to women’s reproductive health–take responsibility to screen (i.e., ask a couple simple questions, know how to recognize and properly diagnose a PMD, know how to provide their patients options, refer patients to mental health practitioners if necessary), I am going to drop what I’m doing and help pass the word on.

I’m asking that you do too.

FOR MIRIAM

Has it really been over 2 months since my last blog post?  I did say previously that I’ve been slowly losing momentum over the past year or so.  As most bloggers can appreciate, my tendency is to blog in reaction to something that either upsets me or excites me.  While there’s been a general lack of negative news (including ignorant things uttered by the public and journalists about incidents that only serve to further stigmatize postpartum mood and disorders, or PMADs), there’s also been a dearth of exciting new research, legislative and/or postpartum support services developments over the past couple of months to motivate me to put pen to paper—or fingers to keyboard.  The former is good; the latter not so good.

Well, I’ve taken up the virtual pen to write today’s blog post.  It’s a blog post that will share the same title with numerous others (based on the support the For Miriam FB page has received in the past few days) who are banding together to spread awareness about PMADs.  These blog posts are dedicated to Miriam Carey.

Miriam.  We know she was a mother.  We know she had her one year old child in her car.  We know that that child is now without a mother.  We know from what has been shared by Miriam’s loved ones that she was being treated for postpartum psychosis.  We know that medication was found in her Stamford, CT, home.  We know she was using her vehicle in a way that caused law enforcement to, unfortunately, shoot to kill.  We know (but far from like the fact) that they are trained to do that.  Though, I’m not sure the one who shot her feels too good about what they had to do.  This loss of life is, simply put, tragic….and the reason why my dear friend, Dr. Walker Karraa, decided to corral this blog carnival in Miriam’s name.

Anyhow, without Miriam’s doctor coming forward and confirming the actual diagnosis, let’s just say that we are going to take this opportunity—since misinformation was once again so quick to be released to the public—to educate the public about PMADs.  Postpartum depression (PPD), postpartum psychosis (PPP), and postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder are some of the PMADs that exist.  They are real and they are treatable.  Problem is, all too many mothers suffering such disorders are 1) failing to seek treatment for whatever reason, 2) seeking help but are either not getting the right treatment or are getting the right treatment but not staying on it long enough for it to become effective, and/or 3) not getting enough support during recovery.

A lot of people have this tendency—a tendency that is in serious need of a reality check—to use PPD to generalize the spectrum of PMADs that exist.  It does not help anyone to report in such a fashion as to fan the embers of stigma and myths that PMAD advocates are trying so desperately to put out.  It definitely does NOT help when you have psychologists who are claiming that “postpartum depression has led mothers to kill their children.”  We know we have a lot of work to do if a psychologist is saying things like this on a show watched by over 4 million people.  Talk about taking 1 step forward and 2 gigantic leaps–not steps–backward.  Geez Louise.  Can’t the networks do a better job of finding true subject matter experts from organizations like Postpartum Support International (PSI)?  They should have PSI on their list of subject matter experts under the category of Mental Health (or more aptly Maternal Mental Health).  PSI should be the very FIRST place to consult with in times like this!

I can’t say that absolutely nothing grates me more than major news agencies spreading misinformation, because I do have a couple things that grate me more….but I won’t get into that here.  But I have to say that it angers me enough to want to do something.  Since video/television opportunities are not something I actively seek—and I’m probably the last person anyone would ever call on anyway—the only thing I can do is lend my voice today, on World Mental Health Day 2013.  Today, I join with other bloggers in a For Miriam blog carnival to try to increase the reach of getting our voices out there for the world to see.

PPD is quite a common illness.  It is experienced by one out of eight new mothers.  I am, in fact, a PPD survivor.  Many of the For Miriam bloggers are PMAD survivors.  Many of us took up blogging to try to reach other moms suffering from a PMAD and making sure they don’t suffer as much and feel as alone as we did in our experiences.  We don’t like it that there’s stigma.  We don’t like it that there are unknown numbers of women who fail to seek treatment due to this stigma.  And we definitely don’t like it when we hear about yet another PMAD-related tragedy.

Granted, information is nowadays very accessible when you search on the Internet for information and blogs about PMADs.  However, I still have yet to see posters and pamphlets in all the offices of medical health practitioners (i.e., general practitioners, OB/GYNs) in this country!  Between misleading statements made by mental health care practitioners, like the psychologist interviewed for The Today Show, plus the lack of information proactively being given to the public, we still find ourselves stuck in a similar ignorance- and stigma-filled rut that we were stuck in 12 years ago after the Andrea Yates’ tragedy.   I can’t say how disappointed and frustrated I really am.

The good that’s stemming from this tragedy is the number of advocates speaking up and sharing their subject matter expertise on PMADs, specifically PPP.

With that <clearing throat>….

AHEM, ALL MEDIA OUTLETS!  Please DO NOT continue to focus on publishing news in a rush because you want to be the first to get your article out to the public.  Ask yourselves:  Is your priority to get your headline to trend?  Or is it to serve the public well by disseminating accurate information?  Please, please, please read the For Miriam posts and please, please, please go to the below sites for ACCURATE information about PPP:

Postpartum Support International
Dr. Walker Karraa
Postpartum Stress Center (Karen Kleinman)
Perinatal Pro (Susan  Dowd Stone)

Now, as I end this post, I would like to humbly ask you to consider doing the following, as part of World Mental Health Day 2013….and for Miriam:

First, to join me in prayer for Miriam’s loved ones.

Second, to go and read as many of the other For Miriam blog posts that you can find the time to do, and share them on Facebook and Twitter to help spread the word that we will NOT cease in our quest to banish the ignorance and stigma when it comes to maternal mental health matters.

Third, if we see a mom who is in need of support, reach out to her.  Ask her how she’s doing.  If she had a baby within the past year, tell her about PSI.  She just might benefit from speaking to someone on the PSI warm line or seek local PMAD resources.  Remember that  approximately one in eight new mothers will experience a PMAD.

Our mothers matter.  Our families matter. 

Do it for Miriam.

Do it for yourself.

Do it for all the other moms out there who have suffered, are currently suffering, and may someday find themselves suffering from a PMAD.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back – Maternal Matters

*** This post may be triggering if you are suffering from postpartum depression (PPD) and are sensitive to negative news events ***

I felt like blogging tonight.  Partly to keep my mind preoccupied so I won’t be nerve wracked all night, worrying about a presentation I have to give at work tomorrow.  Some of you know that I absolutely HATE public speaking of any sort.  HATE.  😦

As my regular readers may have noticed, I don’t rant much any longer….I’ve mentioned before that my years of book writing and blogging have been EXTREMELY cathartic.  I mentioned in my last post that I will continue to share what I feel to be newsworthy developments in research and media that demonstrate a continued forward momentum in the mission to de-stigmatize postpartum mood disorders and provide mothers with the care that is so desperately needed and is yet so lacking, still.  I will also continue to share interesting tidbits I run across from my daily reading material that comes up in my Facebook news feed or elsewhere.

Tonight’s post shows how –despite valiant efforts in advocacy, public awareness and mother support on the part of many, some of whom I personally know–for every one step forward that’s made, there are forces out  there that are ever so ready to drag us two huge steps back.  I would like to highlight two examples of barriers to progress that were mentioned in news articles in the past couple of weeks.

FIRST ARTICLE
This week’s announcement of the closing of the Shuswap Family Resource Centre’s Mother’s Journey Prenatal and Postnatal Support Group in British Columbia, Canada, is an example of how, despite the known benefits of having a postpartum support group, establishing and maintaining such groups within communities that don’t observe social support customs and rituals when it comes to expectant and postpartum mothers has been an ongoing challenge, mostly due to lack of funding.  The postpartum support group offered mothers education (including self awareness and coping mechanisms) and support on 25-week open-ended cycles, meaning that mothers were able to freely join or leave at any point.  Despite the realization of the importance of such a postpartum support group by healthcare practitioners and the community, and the simple fact that there were so many PPD cases and not enough trained individuals to provide the needed care, this center is closing its doors for good.  Even while it was open, because there was no other support group like this anywhere in the area, PPD moms generally had to wait several weeks just to see someone.  If a couple of days felt like an eternity for me when I was in the depths of my PPD, having a mother wait several weeks is simply unacceptable.  Postpartum support groups should be opening, not closing, their doors to mothers!

We need more postpartum centers that focus on the needs of mothers and ensuring there is adequate support in the first one to three months after childbirth. Early intervention and women-centered health initiatives and programs and support services need to be the standard of care rather than the exception!

SECOND ARTICLE
The title of the article is “10 reasons why breastfeeding is out of fashion,” written by Beverly Turner in the The Telegraph.  I don’t get why women in media–or actually in this case a journalist who reminds me a lot of the other political developments that pop up in my Facebook news feed everyday that make me wonder how we could be in the 21st century and still be faced with so many anti-women initiatives (but I won’t go into there because I KNOW how right wing versus left wing thinking can terminate friendships at the snap of a finger, and this blog is not a political, feminist, or pro-choice versus pro-life blog) –want to be a barrier to progress for women?  What she wrote made me sit there and re-read certain parts of her article, all the while scratching my head and going “Huh?  I don’t get it.  This makes no sense whatsoever.  And she’s supposed to be a journalist?  This article is so poorly written!  How could she criticize other women when she doesn’t have a clue about their experiences?”

Now, as for her so-called ten points:

1.   “Lack of post-natal care to help women establish feeding pattern.”
Sure, we need an overall increase in the availability of postnatal and breastfeeding support for new moms in the first 3 months.

2.   “Lack of high-profile role models breastfeeding.  This is why I implore the Duchess of Cambridge to get out her royal orbs when she has her first next month.”
I actually think there are a good number of celebrities that have announced that they are breastfeeding, or breastfed, their babies.  Granted, there could be more, but we have more now talking about breastfeeding than ever before. Honestly, though, did she have to refer to the Duchess’ boobs as “royal orbs”….?!   Does she sound like a man, or is it just me?  From this point on, the article goes downhill very quickly…..never mind very quickly, try at warp speed.

3.    “Noisy loons creating ‘Brestapo’ caricatures to appease their own consciences.  These women are oddly vocal contingents, who bring their own neuroses to public forums shouting that women ‘shouldn’t be pressured…rather than helped (doh!). They are the same crowd who shout ‘women who have caesareans haven’t failed’! rather than, ‘what the hell is wrong with a system that is failing so many women’? It’s oddly misogynistic.”
WTF?  Hypocritical much? I don’t need to go into this in detail because the fabulous, er, Fearless Formula Feeder has already blogged about this in a brilliant letter addressed to this, er, so-called journalist.

Reasons 4-6 and 8-10 may make sense being included on this list but the points she makes for each are weakly written.  Not even worth mentioning, really.

4.    “Reluctance to give time to our babies.”
WTF WTF WTF?  This screams mommy war completely.  How does she know what each mother’s experience is like?   Get this woman a huge dose of empathy, STAT!  I wish people like her who’ve never known firsthand what it’s like to experience PPD or other postpartum mood disorder and/or serious breastfeeding challenges would just keep their flapping and condescending lips shut.

There is a correlation between success in breastfeeding and PPD occurrence, which is why I think it’s important that as many of us that have been there–suffering from PPD and/or experiencing breastfeeding difficulties, and having very little support for either–speak up and have our voices heard.  Because without our voices, we will forever be taking steps backward.  We want progress!  Mothers should support each other, not bash each other!

LET’S KEEP OUR FOCUS ON THE FOLLOWING:

  • End the mommy wars!
  • More breastfeeding support can increase breastfeeding success.
  • We need more postpartum support groups, not close their doors!
  • If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all!
  • Continue steps forward, no backward steps allowed!

2012 Postnatal Depression Awareness Week – It’s Not All Black and White (Australia)

November 18-24 is Postnatal Depression (PND) Awareness Week – It’s Not All Black and White in Australia.  This is an initiative organized by PANDA, the Post and Antenatal Depression Association, located in Victoria, Australia.  As you can see, I don’t just blog about postpartum depression (PPD) news/events in the U.S., because PPD is an illness that is suffered by women all over the world.  My post for last year’s Blogging for World Mental Health Day sums up why public awareness about PPD is so critical.  PPD isn’t black and white.  There are varying “shades” of PPD and there is actually a spectrum of perinatal (before/during/after) mood disorders.  Each  mom’s experience will be unique in terms of duration, treatment, and symptoms.

Here is an excerpt from my book on the spectrum of perinatal mood disorders, or the different “shades” of PPD, that make it so darn challenging to understand by the public and even healthcare professionals:

PPD can occur anytime within the first year after you give birth. It can start as early as a few days postpartum, but appears to occur most frequently around six to eight weeks postpartum. It has even been known to occur in mothers weaning their babies at two years postpartum. PPD often serves among writers on the topic as a catch-all phrase for the spectrum of perinatal mood disorders, or those mood disorders occurring before pregnancy (antepartum, antenatal, or prenatal), during pregnancy, and after childbirth (postpartum or postnatal). The spectrum of postpartum mood disorders includes postpartum anxiety, postpartum panic disorder, postpartum OCD, and postpartum psychosis.

Not everyone who suffers from PPD suffers the same symptoms. The extent to which women suffer from PPD varies and depends on the woman’s biological makeup and past experiences with stressors. PPD experiences range from bouts of crying, heightened anxiety, and fatigue to feeling completely unable to function and to the extreme cases of postpartum psychosis where the mother may hurt or even kill herself and/or her baby. My symptoms were, for the most part, physical rather than psychological. For example, I had no self-esteem issues, and baggage from the past did not resurface (e.g., unresolved issues with a parent’s death or departure during childhood, I have to be a better mother than mine was, etc.). I felt so anxious and unable to function that I could barely get myself to leave the house for my doctor’s appointments. My only symptoms were insomnia, high levels of anxiety, and panic attacks. I was always prone to worry more than the average person, but I had never had any panic attacks before. Hard to believe that my fear of never being able to fall asleep and stay asleep on my own, without medication, could drive my body to have panic attacks. I wanted to fall asleep, but didn’t want to take the Ambien so that I could prove to myself that the insomnia was temporary. When I couldn’t fall asleep, that led to my panic attacks, where my heart raced uncontrollably, my extremities would turn cold, and, when I woke up each morning, I’d be in a cold sweat. All this was so overwhelming.

And:

  • Women throughout the world suffer from PPD, but just as one woman’s genetics, physiology, life experiences, and coping strategies are unique to her, one woman’s PPD experience will vary from the next woman in terms of the triggers, symptoms, severity, reaction to medication and/or therapy, and duration. The way everyone reacts to things like fatigue, stress, and lack of support is unique.
  • A woman may experience PPD for one but not all of her pregnancies.
  • PPD symptoms may differ from one episode to the next.
  • A woman who has suffered from nonpregnancy depression in the past can experience very different symptoms with PPD.
  • There is a wide range of possible symptoms.
  • The timing of the onset of symptoms varies, ranging from a couple of weeks to several months to as late as two years postpartum. Most cases begin six to eight weeks postpartum, though it can begin up to a year postpartum, and even as late as two years after childbirth due to weaning.
  • Recognizing the onset of PPD can be difficult due to the fact that such symptoms as mood swings, tearfulness, irritability, and anxiety are also symptoms of the baby blues.
  • Some amount of stress, anxiety, irritability, hypersensitivity, difficulty sleeping, and exhaustion (mental and physical) are considered normal consequences of having a brand-new baby to take care of. If you tell your doctor or another parent that you’re anxious and having trouble sleeping, he or she will look at you and say, “What new parent can sleep? It’s perfectly normal to feel some amount of anxiety.” Not being able to sleep at all even when the baby sleeps and you are utterly exhausted is insomnia, and you need to drive that point home.
  • Even women who had smooth pregnancies and deliveries, with no history of emotional problems or depression, can also develop PPD.
  • Fathers can also develop PPD.
  • Adoptive parents can also develop PPD.

Now, do you get why the tagline is so perfect for this awareness campaign?!

It gives me hope whenever I see a U.S. state–or in this case, a different country–acknowledge that PPD is a real illness and the stigma surrounding it must be combated through public awareness campaigns to educate the public about an illness that strikes in as many as 20% of new mothers.  Last year, Postpartum Support International declared May National Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month with a “Speak Up When You’re Down” Campaign, an awareness campaign dedicated to increasing support for pregnant and postpartum women and their families here in the U.S.  Certain states like California (CA Perinatal Mental Health Awareness Month), Oregon (Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month), and Illinois (Perinatal Mood Disorders Awareness Month) have passed legislation declaring May a month dedicated to educating the public of the resources/treatment programs available to women and their families should they experience a perinatal mood disorder, as well as reducing stigma associated with maternal mental health.  Other states like New Jersey and Massachusetts have passed legislation relating to public awareness, screening, research, and support services.

Now, getting back to the Land Down Under, there are some wonderful PPD bloggers and their blog posts in support of Postnatal Depression Awareness Week.  I’d like to highlight fellow alumna Debra Dane and her blog post, who does a great job explaining why this awareness week has the tagline of “It’s not all black and white,” and my friend Yuz Rozenblum’s Not Just About Wee blog post.

If you look at the end of each of these two blog posts, you will see all the posts written by other PPD mamas.  Please check them out!  For moms currently suffering from PPD, you are NOT alone.

Please Tune in to PBS Special on PPD – Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A quick post tonight.  I have 6 posts I want to work on, but want to be sure I get this out tonight, as tomorrow night is the debut of the PBS special “Healthbeat.”  Tune in 10:30 PM EST and watch Emmy Award-winning journalist Sara Lee Kessler as she travels around the country interviewing individuals behind postpartum depression (PPD) programs and research.  Click here to read more and for a more complete listing of the television channels that will be airing the show.

Among those interviewed include Dr. Katherine Wisner, a renowned researcher at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Dr. David Rabinow, Samantha Meltzer-Brody, MD, and Chris Raines, RN of the UNC inpatient perinatal psychiatry unit, about which I blogged a couple times previously.  Commentaries will be provided by various medical/mental health professionals, like Susan Stone (author of the Perinatal Pro blog), who specialize in treating PPD patients.  I’m particularly excited because I have had the pleasure of seeing Dr. Katherine Wisner and Dr. David Rabinow at past Postpartum Support International conferences, and I’ve met and chatted with Chris Raines.

Among the programs that will be looked at include New Jersey’s Speak Up When You’re Down and New Jersey’s maternal and child health consortia–yet another reason why I am looking forward to watching this television special!

I hope you will join me in watching this show that will be sure to educate the public on the current state of PPD research and programs, those dedicated to helping moms and their families struggling with a postpartum mood disorder, as well as those dedicated to breaking down the barriers that have existed for far too long.

Treating Moms Well Facebook Page – Contest

CONTEST (now until March 23, 2012, 12:00 AM CST): ***Win a $50.00 Target Gift Card!***

Are you a Mom? A Dad? A survivor of a Perinatal Mood or Anxiety Disorder? A friend or supporter of anyone who fits any of these descriptions? If so, please join us in spreading awareness of Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders and help us have a successful 5th annual Treating Moms Well Fundraiser!

Treating Moms Well was established in 2008 to create awareness about Pospartum Depression (PPD) and to raise funds to help women who would otherwise lack access to lifesaving PPD services.

To participate, follow these steps:

1. Think of a short sentence that describes how you felt in the early weeks and months of parenthood: e.g. “I felt overwhelmed and exhausted,” “I felt like my greatest dream had come true!”, or even “It felt like my whole life had been turned upside down and I didn’t recognize myself.” If you are not a parent and would like to share an observation in honor of someone you know (or you would like to share but remain anonymous), you can say tell us how you felt to see your friend/family member going through early parenthood. For example, you might say, “I felt so proud of the way she managed her stress.” “It felt like there was nothing I could do to stop her suffering.” “It felt like she could do things so effortlessly.” Please keep your statement in the “I felt/It felt” format.

2.Share this message with every one of your Facebook friends by clicking “Share” at the bottom of this post, and include your statement at the top. You can also cut and paste this as a message and send to all of your friends. The more you share this with your friends, the stronger your chance of winning!

3. Post your statement in the comment section directly below the Contest #1 Post on the Treating Moms Well Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/TreatingMomsWell.  The commenter who receives the most “likes” wins the prize!

***Note: You do not have to live in the Chicago area to participate. Contest will expire on Wednesday, March 23rd at 12:00pm CST.

Developing Systemic Solutions to Postpartum Depression

One of two real quickie posts from me today, and I never post 2 at the same time!   Thanks to Twitter, I am in better shape news-wise than before, that’ s for sure! 

Back in August 2010, a bill referred to as “An Act Relative to Postpartum Depression” was passed and went into effect in Massachusetts. Click here for my previous post on this.  Today, there was a Boston Globe article titled “All mothers need to be screened for postpartum depression” posted by Marjorie Pritchard that provides an update on the state’s progress.  Although funding for the heart of the bill–universal screening and public awareness initiatives–has been practically non-existent, progress is being made that includes the state Department of Public Health issuing regulations on best practices and data collection for screening. 

Additionally, the mission of a 34-person Commission chaired by Emily Story (Democratic state representative from Amherst), and made up of health care providers, insurance representatives, survivors, legislators and state agency representatives–among many others–is to come up with best practices in screening/referrals/treatment, public awareness, and education of healthcare professionals.  Basically, the development of systemic solutions to postpartum depression so desperately needed to help women and their families get the help they need when it comes to an illness that strikes so many new mothers.

It’s certainly encouraging to see such progress–albeit slow and steeped with challenges (in the form of funding and the state of the economy and health insurance)–in Massachusetts.  Before the end of this decade, I’d like to see all 50 states working to achieve the same goals with respect to maternal (and family) well-being !

There is No Sure-Fire Way to Prevent PPD (and PPD is NOT Mind Over Matter)

I’ve blogged previously about people who–despite seemingly good intentions–blog about a topic they claim having subject matter expertise but don’t really.  Refer to my blog post from a couple months back about breastfeeding…a post that was better left in the author’s Drafts until she got her facts straight.  The outcome was an uproar about how breastfeeding should be a mother’s choice rather than being forced upon everyone without considering their situation. 

Well, this time, there was uproar once again, but I was a few hours too late to see what it was really about….which is fine by me because I was having a very stressful day Thursday, and the last thing I needed was an article that provides misleading information to the public about postpartum depression (PPD) to put me over the edge.  I never had a chance to read the full article, but if you click here, you’ll see most of the original text. Evidently, it was modified from the time it was first posted, started to receive unfavorable comments, and was then subsequently pulled.  I’m grateful for the many responses to the article on the Postpartum Progress Facebook page.  I did go to the author’s own website and saw how her techniques could “prevent PPD”…….all at a cost. It reminded me of my previous post of a sure-fire cure for PPD…all at a cost.  Nothing ticks me off more than, whether intentionally ignorant or not, misinformation about PPD. We’re trying to raise public awareness of the truth, not increase the stigma at the expense of maternal (and consequently, family) health.

If you didn’t suffer from PPD and/or you aren’t a professional psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker or other health care professional dedicated to treating mothers with PPD, you probably wouldn’t see anything wrong with the article.  But please note that, with no mention of the biological aspects of PPD–which are of utmost importance if you want to truly understand what PPD is, why it occurs, understand the risk factors and how you can minimize your risk for it, and how to treat it– the article is leading the public to believe that the cause is purely psychological.  The gist of the article implies that PPD is no big deal and you hold the key to preventing PPD from occurring by doing X, Y, and Z.  Basically, it’s another attempt to try to tell you that PPD is purely mind over matter.  You can empower yourself to prevent it from happening, and if it does, you can sure as heck snap right out of it all on your own accord.  A PPD mom’s #1 pet peeve expression:  “Snap out of it.”   Makes me grit my teeth everytime I hear it.

Though it’s true that knowledge is empowering and if you were to understand PPD and why it occurs, you can minimize risk for it, you CANNOT completely guarantee that a new mom won’t succumb to it if there are certain biopsychosical factors that are making her particularly vulnerable to it at that point in time.   A mom with PPD experiences physical symptoms (e.g., insomnia, weight loss) due to altered neurotransmitter levels resulting from a combination of biopsychosocial factors.  Some of those factors are out of your control, like your hormones crashing, events that occur during labor & delivery that prove to be traumatic, baby in the NICU for a period of time, and so on.

For accurate information on PPD, visit Postpartum Support International and Postpartum Progress.

Blogging for World Mental Health Day – Blog Party 2011!

Glad you can join me as I participate in the very first blog party devoted to World Mental Health Day, hosted by PsychCentral.  I am happy to be one of the bloggers from all over the world who are coming together today to help increase public awareness of mental health concerns, and welcome to World Mental Health Day (October 10), designated by the World Health Organization (WHO) to help spotlight the lack of care mental disorders all too often receive around the world.

I’d like to start my post–the original title of which was going to be Let’s Let Our Voices Be Heard: Conquering the Stigma of Mental Illness Together–by asking you what motivated you to start blogging.

  • Was it to get your thoughts out because doing so is therapeutic?
  • Was it to voice your opinion on a topic near and dear to your heart?
  • Was it in the hopes of trying to make a positive difference by sharing what you learned from your own experiences?

All three reasons motivated me to blog about the topic I am utterly passionate about: postpartum depression (PPD).  Other than sharing my own experiences and providing lessons learned from those experiences, my posts would very often address recent developments in this country, particularly as it pertains to PPD in the media (newspapers, television, Internet), legislative developments, and ignorant comments I happen to stumble across in newspapers and online.

What’s my #1 peeve?  I’ve said it before on this blog and will say it again.  Let’s say it together now:  Behavior & remarks made out of ignorance, prejudism, condescension. I have zero tolerance for any of this, thanks to my wonderful high school experience.  While growing up, I was taunted and isolated at junior/senior high school by an all-white crowd for….I’ll give you one guess.  Yep, being Chinese.  As a consequence of my teenage experiences, I am a passionate anti-bullying advocate.  I am determined to become active in my community when it comes to taking a stand against bullying.  Heck, who knows?  I may become active at the state or even federal level.  Another consequence of my teenage years–when the kids had their own cliques, didn’t like the way I looked, didn’t liked the way I dressed, and just plain looked down at me in general…I’ve become quite intolerant of behavior/remarks made out of ignorance and condescension.

Which leads me to where I stand today.  I’ve spent the past 6 years working on a book (which should be out by Thanksgiving) and the past 2-1/2 years blogging (has it really been that long already?) because of the following:

  • All the ignorant comments made by people around me—including colleagues, acquaintances, my doctors, and their staff
  • The way I was treated by my doctors
  • No one telling me about PPD in the first place
  • The lack of information that is given to the public via magazines, hospital training, doctors’ offices, and television
  • The way society makes assumptions that all mothers have smooth and easy pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum experiences

Yesterday morning, an encounter with someone I know almost threw a wrench in the day that I had planned with my daughter.  It took me until I wrote this post last night to put 1 and 2 together to figure out why in the world I was in tears by the time I got home. It’s because 2 of my 3 triggers–or actually “crushing blow” points–were pulled today.  There was a momentary lapse in my determination to stand strong against these types blows. (believe it or not, in the past couple of years, I’ve noticed a personal transformation due to an increased self confidence due to my blog, the book I’m just about to publish, and public speaking classes; at work, I’m able to let certain people/circumstances slide while in the past I would’ve been crushed). 

What were the 2 things that bothered me so much yesterday? 

  • Ignorance – I got an “okay, then” look when I told her about the topic of the book I’ve been slaving over the past 6 years…..like it didn’t matter because it didn’t mean anything to her
  • Feeling of isolation (that’s how I felt all through high school from kids picking on me, not wanting to be my friend because I didn’t dress well and because I was a shy Chinese girl) – For several weeks now, whenever this woman (and I’ve known her for over a year now and we are on friendly terms) is speaking with another friend while our 3 daughters are swimming, she has yet to introduce me to her friend (I know, I can introduce myself, but heck, it’s the principal I’m struggling with here).  I’m trying not to take it personally, but it’s tough. I always introduce someone I’m talking to if someone else I know is sitting with us. I would never ignore the 3rd person (yesterday, that 3rd person was me…very ignored) and deliberately exclude her from the conversation. I don’t think I’m being overly sensitive. I think someone is being rude here. And I really don’t need rudeness in my life, thank you very much.

Okay, now more on the topic at hand.  Postpartum depression (PPD). This has been the topic I’ve dedicated the last 6 years to my book and the last 2-1/2 years to my blog. 

If asked what the number one complication of childbirth is today, most people would probably say C-sections. One would never think that depression is the leading complication of childbirth because no one ever talks about their experience. As a result, so many cases go unreported and untreated. This is more than likely the reason why, aside from ignorance about PPD and stereotypes of motherhood, postpartum illnesses don’t receive the attention of health practitioners, hospitals, and funding for education and public awareness that they deserve.

Frankly, I’m amazed that there is still so much ignorance about PPD. That ignorance is perpetuated by the lack of information about PPD available to the public, not to mention the general unwillingness of people to talk about it. Had I known about PPD before I had my baby, I would not have suffered the way I had suffered, not knowing what in the world was wrong with me. Ignorance, or the fear of not knowing, can intensify an already bad situation exponentially. There is no need for that kind of suffering, especially at a time when a new mom should be enjoying her baby. After all, she only has one shot at experiencing her baby’s first few months.

Before my own experience with PPD, I’d never really heard much about it before. I thought it was rare. I’d heard of the occasional sad news of a stillbirth or miscarriage, but in terms of experiences after the baby’s arrival, I’d only heard women rave about how great motherhood is. I’d never heard of any terrible motherhood experiences. I never thought it would be something that would happen to me. I thought it was all a matter of mind over matter.

Had I known that as many as one out of eight new mothers develop PPD, I would’ve tried to become familiar with what it is, its risk factors, and its symptoms before having my baby, and I would’ve never traveled that long, lonely, and dark road during those dreadful weeks I was sick with PPD. But I emerged from my PPD experience much smarter and stronger than before, and for that, I am grateful.

Having PPD is so embarrassing and difficult to talk about, that most women will not tell their stories to people they know, let alone to the world. There’s this fear of being judged, criticized, and labeled as inferior mothers. Well, I am not afraid to tell my story, especially if it means helping other mothers. I want to make a positive impact by empowering women with knowledge about an illness that is more prevalent than people think.

From all the books and articles I’ve read, it appears that denial, embarrassment, and/or pride keep women from admitting they have any psychological issues. Out of curiosity to see if this holds true, and since I am unafraid of admitting to anyone, even a stranger, that I suffered from PPD, I’d try to broach the subject whenever possible to try to get a new mother to tell me she had PPD. Other than a couple mothers who thought they had PPD when in actuality they probably only had postpartum blues (based on the description of their experiences), I couldn’t find a single woman who had actually experienced PPD. Or I just didn’t find anyone who would admit that she’d suffered terribly, too ashamed to admit to having such a negative experience at a time when everyone expects her to be happy. It wasn’t until after I started blogging that I realized there are a lot of women out there who are currently suffering from or who have suffered from PPD. Perhaps it’s the anonymity that comes with blogging under, in many cases, aliases that is encouraging more and more women to speak up about their experiences.  People openly talking about their own experiences encourages others to do so as well. Whether it is via online media (blogs, discussion forums, PsychCentral, WebMD, etc.), newspapers, magazine articles, or public service announcements, we need more of this!

We should all develop a zero tolerance position when it comes to ignorance, and stigma, of mental health.  Ignorance leads to: 

  • New mothers not knowing about PPD and being blindsided, they won’t necessarily realize what they have requires medical and/or mental health care, and unnecessarily suffering feelings of shame, fear, guilt, and self-doubt come from not knowing what causes PPD in the first place. With awareness of what causes PPD and why, there would be fewer mothers struggling with such negative feelings. The belief that it’s just a mind-over-matter thing and that if they were truly a good mother they wouldn’t be feeling this way at all must be eradicated. The only way to do that is through constant hammering away the message in as many forms of media as possible that PPD is a common occurrence, that it happens more often than you know because most mothers don’t talk about their experiences, and it has a biochemical cause.
  • People mistakenly believing that PPD is the same thing as the blues and moms should be able to snap out of it, since it’s mind over matter.
  • Misconceptions, prejudices, comments and societal attitude that cause new mothers with PPD to suffer in silence and hide their condition behind smiles, unwilling to get treatment.
  • Lack of sympathy or understanding by the public because there’s just not enough being done to educate the public on what it really is (instead of inaccurate depictions of PPD in the media). Because the only cases of a postpartum mood disorder you hear about in the news are about mothers who kill their babies, the general population has misconceptions of what PPD really is. As long as women are afraid to speak openly about PPD, the longer the public at large will remain ignorant about it, its prevalence, and its seriousness. Try asking people if they realize that one out of eight new mothers suffers from PPD. I can almost guarantee that they won’t believe you. The terrible irony of the ignorance about PPD is that it will continue as long as mothers are afraid of telling others what they are going through.

We need to get to the point where the public acknowledges PPD for what it is: a real medical illness. The PPD mom deserves support, not criticism. She did not bring this on herself, nor is PPD a contrived illness. PPD doesn’t just arise out of a new mother’s failure to cope with her transition to motherhood, despite what some people who don’t know better would try to have you believe. It is not mind over matter, and she cannot just snap out of it whenever she feels like it. This should not be a negative reflection on her. PPD does not mean a woman is weaker or less of a mother than those who don’t have PPD. In fact, those who speak up about how they are truly feeling—unafraid of what others think—are brave women who are not afraid to take that first courageous step toward recovery because they realize their health is critical to the overall family’s health.

Instead of looking back with regret at my PPD experience, I look at it as an experience that has truly made me a more knowledgeable and stronger person. And that is what I hope other PPD survivors and those who are battling (and survived) depression will do. My hope is that more of you will speak up. The more that speak up about their experiences, the less ignorance and stigma about depression there will be.

What You Don’t Know WILL Hurt You…Be In the Know about PPD

There are more people out there who don’t know about postpartum depression (PPD) than do.  And that’s a scary thing.  This means that all too many women will continue to be hit from left field with PPD.  All too many women hear the words “postpartum depression” and think “Gee, what are the chances I will have PPD?”  Take it from me, you would not want to be caught unprepared by a surprise visit by PPD.  Don’t assume you will NOT be one of the 15% who falls prey to PPD.   It’s better to be safe than sorry, right?  Absolutely!

Regardless of whether depression runs in your family, it will be worthwhile to arm yourself with the knowledge of what PPD is, and to prepare for the possibility that you may experience it.  Put aside your thoughts of “I would never let that happen to me.”  That’s what I did whenever I saw the words PPD while I was pregnant. 

Don’t be like me.  I believed I wouldn’t let PPD happen to me.  So, when it did, I didn’t know what was happening to me.  The symptoms caught me totally off-guard.  And believe me, being ignorant and unprepared for it causes unnecessary fear, anxiety, guilt and inability to appreciate the baby to which you just gave birth.  Empower yourself with the knowledge of PPD so you won’t be like me, the following of which describes my experience:

  • caught off-guard and clueless
  • not knowing what’s wrong with you
  • thinking you’re going nuts
  • thinking this is the way you’re going to be for the rest of your life
  • thinking you’ll never be your old self again
  • feeling hopeless
  • feeling like you’re the only one who’s ever felt this way
  • feeling regret that you can’t enjoy your baby the way you’d dreamed you would
  • not knowing how to get help so you can get well again

Had I known about PPD before my daughter was born, I would not have been so scared as to why I had insomnia and couldn’t sleep even though I was exhausted beyond words and even during the times my daughter slept.  My fear would not have escalated to full-blown anxiety attacks.  I would’ve recognized other symptoms like loss of appetite (I lost so much weight so fast that within a couple of weeks I weighed less than I did before I got pregnant!).  As soon as I started to have insomnia instead of merely taking the Ambien prescribed to me by my OB/GYN, I would’ve immediately known to question it as a sign of PPD and gotten the right treatment then, instead of having to go through the hell that I went through not knowing what was wrong with me.

From seeing the happy moms around you to those on the television and in magazines, you look forward to your future with your baby with joyful anticipation, thinking that with happy thoughts, there will only be happy days ahead.  And just because you never hear anyone you know talk about having PPD doesn’t mean no one you know has ever suffered from it.  A friend, relative, colleague or neighbor may one day suffer, or at this moment could be suffering, from PPD and you may never even know it because she doesn’t know what is wrong with her and is ashamed to let anyone know that she needs support and rest, and/or is feeling anxious and unable to enjoy her baby as she’d dreamed she would.  

It should be the responsibility of OB/GYNs to educate their patients who are depending on them for their perinatal (before, during and after birth) care.  Providing the warnings would help prepare the new parents in the event they may experience postpartum blues and/or PPD, thereby preventing a slew of negative feelings ranging from fear and anger in reaction to being blindsided to bewilderment, isolation, shame, guilt, anxiety, panic, confusion, etc.   Knowledge of what is causing them to feel the way they feel—something that is completely foreign to most who’ve never previously experienced any psychiatric history—can help minimize these very negative feelings.  Never hearing any other mothers say they’ve experienced any of these negative feelings, many of these women may end up thinking, incorrectly, that they are completely alone in what they’re experiencing.  Not knowing that PPD is causing these feelings, they don’t know what’s wrong with them and fear, needlessly, that they will never return to their old selves again. 

The problem is you cannot rely on doctors to recognize and treat PPD, because many of them still do not know how to.  Or could it be that doctors are afraid they will only be causing unnecessary worry about an illness that only strikes one out of eight moms?   Well, it is wrong and irresponsible to keep women in the dark about PPD.  Information is not a danger to patients.  Information about the reality of motherhood must be made available if we want to help other mothers, not sabotage them, and reduce those PPD rates once and for all!  It’s keeping the truth from patients that will do way more harm than good.  I’ve always believed in the saying “What you don’t know won’t hurt you.”  In many cases, it happens to be true.  But it couldn’t be further from the truth when it concerns a person’s health and well-being.  Ignorance is not bliss and in fact can be quite detrimental, particularly when it comes to PPD. Not knowing what is happening to you can be very stressful indeed.  There’s nothing worse than not knowing, being in the dark. 

During childbirth/childcare prep classes, the instructor may (or may not) mention the words “postpartum depression” and how some women develop it.  They may (or may not) give you a handout about PPD, but you choose subconsciously to ignore it because you think that it couldn’t possibly happen to you.  I was amazed about how little is mentioned about PPD at the hospital where I delivered my baby.  They have a pretty good educational program for expectant parents in terms of Prepared Childbirth (including Lamaze and prenatal nutrition), Infant Care (including Car Seat Safety), Sibling Classes, and Breastfeeding.  I took the Prepared Childbirth, Infant Care and Breastfeeding classes.  Aside from the great breastfeeding support program, there is no new mother support program as far as I’m aware.  However, even if I had known there was a number to contact for other new mother issues, I don’t think I would’ve picked up the phone and called.  I thought my experiences were unique to me and others would not understand what I was going through. 

Avoiding the topic–like throwing out literature about it during childbirth or childcare prep classes–doesn’t automatically mean you will not get PPD.  It’s only natural for you to not want to hear about anything that could go wrong during the postpartum period.  You may have enough pregnancy-related concerns as it is, with things like nausea, difficulty sleeping, getting everything ready for the baby’s arrival, spotting, cramping, bloating, preeclampsia, etc.  I mean, who wants to look forward to their baby’s birth with anything other than positive thoughts?  And who wants to think about something you’re convinced won’t happen to you?  It’s natural to deal with concerns as they arise, rather than worry about something that more than likely would not happen anyway.

 But remember, a cross-that-bridge-when-you-get-to-it mentality won’t help you if, once you cross that bridge, PPD hits you like a ton of bricks—suddenly and quite mercilessly

HB 2235 Passes the Senate!

(Salem, Oregon) –  HB 2235, a bill that will raise awareness of perinatal mood disorders, has passed the Senate on May 19, 2011, and now awaits the Governor’s signature.   This bill requires the Oregon Health Authority to provide health care providers with training and literature to increase their awareness (and hence patient awareness)–not to mention earlier detection and treatment–of perinatal mood disorders.   Providing this information to expectant and new moms and dads is empowering them to get the help they need from a doctor and/or therapist without the shame and stigma that has been associated with perinatal mood disorders.

A committed group of individuals has been working hard since 2009 to push this legislation through, and it’s wonderful that their efforts have led to success!  Wendy Davis, Postpartum Support International Executive Director, has been very involved in those efforts.   Yay, Wendy! 

It is so, so encouraging to see more and more states seeing the light, the need to help the many moms out there with perinatal mood disorders see the light at the end of the dark tunnel that they are trapped in, and to shed light on perinatal mood disorder risks, symptoms and treatments available via an awareness campaign.

Click here for more information.

House Bill 2235 (Maternal Mental Health Patient/Provider Education Bill) Passes and Moves to Senate

Another state is moving toward progress when it comes to an increase in public awareness of perinatal mood disorders.  House Bill 2235 was approved by the House on April 28th and now passes to the Senate!

The Maternal Mental Health Patient and Provider Education Program is intended to identify and address maternal mental health disorders and to prevent the associated long-term negative impact on women and their families.  How would this program accomplish this? 

  • Ensuring health care providers (physicians, nurse midwives and other licensed health care professionals):
    • are  trained to screen, identify, assess and treat perinatal mood disorders, as well as make appropriate referrals, and
    • provide patients and their family members such information materials about maternal mental health disorders.
  • Educating the public about maternal mental health disorders.
  • Ensuring hospitals and other health care facilities serving pregnant and postpartum patients (including  postnatal and post-pregnancy loss patients) provide patients and their family members information materials about maternal mental health disorders.

It is truly encouraging to see the positive developments occurring at the state level across the country, and I hope that this trend will steadily continue until all states have legislation in place that will ensure the public awareness that is needed to do away with the stigma and ensure all mothers experiencing perinatal mood disorders get the help they need!  

The well-being of the mother helps to ensure the well-being of her child(ren) and the overall well-being of the family!

Start off 2011 by Saying “No” to Sensationalistic Media

Wishing you a Happy & Healthy 2011!

I was hoping to find inspiration in and blog about something positive to start the new year off on a pleasant foot, but…..Katherine Stone’s blog post today was about one of my all-time favorite topics–media using their spotlight to help spread misconceptions about postpartum mood disorders–and that got me going.  I can’t help but be dismayed, to say the very least, that Time magazine has struck out again as far as editing their content about a postpartum mood disorder (PPMD) before publishing is concerned.  

What did they do this time?  Well, in the article titled “Study: Depression, Fear of Abandonment Can Lead Moms to Kill Babies,” the author Bonnie Rochman uses the words “mad mommies” and “psychotic nut jobs.”  C’mon now….are these words really necessary?  I wish I could tell her and other authors like her to try being realistic rather than trying too hard to grab people’s attention.   There’s simply no need for that.  It’s articles like this that, though the author no doubt thinks she’s doing a huge favor by publishing an article in the health section and educating the public, she’s doing quite the opposite.   Articles like these in a magazine like Time–and we’re not even talking about the National Enquirer or some other gossip mag–only serve to scare new moms out there from getting the help they so desperately need.  It’s this fear of being viewed as “nut jobs” that only contribute to all the moms out there who are falling through the cracks, struggling with a PPMD but going undiagnosed and untreated and sometimes leading to disastrous consequences. 

Thanks, but no thanks for keeping the stigma of mental health going, Ms. Rochman.  Time Magazine, when are you going to help, rather than hinder, progress when it comes to public awareness and education about PPMDs, sticking with the facts and nothing but the facts (i.e., sans sensationalistic terms)?  

For all you PPMD survivor mamas out there–and family members who have seen you suffer and emerge from the dark and desolate tunnel of your experience–please, please, please do your part to help raise awareness.  As I’ve mentioned many times before, be an advocate.  Speak up.  Don’t be afraid to share your stories with your family, friends, neighbors and colleagues.  Don’t be afraid to comment on these articles that incorrectly portray PPMDs, and even submit letters to media outlets that put out articles like this.  If you hear remarks like this being said by those around you, don’t be afraid to provide your honest opinion that comes from experience.  You PPD survivor mamas have what most of these authors and people in the media don’t have…..firsthand experience of what it’s truly like to suffer from a PPMD.  And DON’T YOU FORGET IT!

Tragic Consequences from Untreated PPD

At a training event co-sponsored by the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services for New Jersey healthcare providers earlier in the year, Randy Gibbs, founder and executive director of Jenny’s Light, spoke about his sister, Jenny Gibbs Bankston, who suffered from undiagnosed postpartum depression (PPD) and took her infant son’s life and then her own on December 19, 2007.  Had Jenny’s PPD been detected and treated, both she and her son would be alive today.  As the 3rd anniversary of this tragedy approaches in just a few days, I felt the need to share this important message. 

Randy created this not-for-profit organization in his sister’s memory.  The mission of Jenny’s Light is to try to help prevent such tragedies from happening to others by spreading awareness about, as well as providing resources and support to moms and their families who are suffering from, perinatal mood disorders.

Thank you, Randy, for sharing your family’s story with us.   Hopefully, enough people will view this and other videos, read the blogs out there (see my PPD Blogroll), and go to trustworthy websites (see my PPD Websites) to become educated so that mothers and their loved ones will NOT be caught off-guard and suffer tragic consequences.

Depression and Teen Suicides….It WILL Get Better

I’m on a real roll right now with 3 blog posts in < 1 week!    Well, what has spurred me to post today is an article titled “Experts fear copycat suicides after bullying cases” by Geoff Mulvihilli (AP) that I came across today concerning the recent teen suicides….6 since Tyler Clementi’s suicide on September 22, 2010.  I am digressing from postpartum depression in that I am blogging about teen suicides, though suicides do occur in cases of postpartum mood disorders (PMDs) as well.   I did blog about teen suicide once before, and in that post, I wrote about what makes girls more prone to depression once they hit puberty.

The circumstances that led to Tyler’s suicide were disturbing, despicable and disgraceful.  The lives of those involved will never be the same, ever.  The good that will come out of Tyler’s story is the realization that something must be done to put an end to bullying that has always occurred among our youth but its effect has become all the more deadly thanks to the Internet and other social media tools, whether it be live video streams (as in Tyler’s case), chat rooms, texting, or Twitter.  President Obama and celebrities such as Ellen DeGeneres have made public appeals.  The Trevor Project’s “It Gets Better” campaign has been very active in the past couple of months in reaching out to teens and providing them with resources and hope.   States that hadn’t previously had anti-bullying laws have since either put them into place or are in the process of putting them in place.  There are now only 5 states with no anti-bullying laws.  Click here for state-specific legislative details. 

Click here for a Photo Essay of the victims of bullying just from this past year.  If these pictures don’t make you want to try to help stop bullying, I don’t know what will.  Having been a victim of bullying, you bet I will do whatever I can to help spread awareness and join any campaigns against bullying.  From the time my daughter reaches first grade until she graduates from high school, I will be involved in anti-bullying matters at her school.  And if there isn’t any anti-bullying policy in place in her school when she’s there–or at the very least counselors adequately trained to recognize signs of depression and know what to do when there is bullying going on–I sure as heck will do what I can to make sure one is put in place.

Per the article, Laura McGinnis, spokeswoman for The Trevor Project, said that her group’s crisis hotline has seen a 75% increase in calls and an increase in requests from schools and community leaders for “survival kits” since Tyler’s death.  I’d like to highlight what Ms. McGinnis said with respect to–and this applies to all individuals who are troubled and in need of someone to talk to–crisis intervention:

“It’s important for people who are feeling suicidal to know where to turn to for help, whether it’s a hot line, a friend or a hospital.  There are people out there who can help you, who are willing to listen.”

Says Ann Haas, director of prevention programs at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention:

“If youth are struggling with depression, the impact of bullying can be quite different than if they’re otherwise emotionally healthy.”

And this, folks, is the one very big distinguishing factor between how different teens handle situations like bullying, teenage angst and/or a dysfunctional family.  When I saw a Facebook comment a few weeks ago from one of my “friends” who happens to be in high school how he could never, ever feel down enough to hurt or kill himself despite all that he had to put up with in high school, so what’s up with the new trend of teens killing themselves instead of dealing with their problems, I had to speak up.  I basically said that one who has never suffered from depression will never understand what it’s like to be depressed–to feel so alone, worthless, and desperate enough to want to end it all.   Just like this article says, it’s not just one factor (i.e., bullying) that may lead an individual to thoughts of suicide.   There is a whole lot more to it.  Personality (i.e., self esteem), the way a person was brought up to deal with issues, and support system among family/friends (or lack thereof) all have a lot to do with it.  People need to open their eyes to see when someone in their lives isn’t himself or herself, could use someone to talk to and provide a shoulder to lean on, and needs a hotline/warmline and/or professional help.

I am going to now draw a parallel with PPD here.  Moms who have never had a PMD will never understand what it’s like to have a PMD.  That’s a fair statement to make, but it shouldn’t keep people from becoming educated.  From opening their eyes.  From forgetting the dumb stigma that’s associated with depression, especially depression occurring after childbirth.  From forgetting the even dumber motherhood myths.  From recognizing when something is not right with a new mom and helping her to seek professional help.   From recognizing when a call to 1-800-273-TALK (8255) is needed.

What we all need to do is to become educated on symptoms of depression in the people in our lives and know what to do to help.   Everyone deserves help and support.  With the right help and support, any situation that’s troubling an individual can and WILL pass.  As the Trevor Project motto goes “It Gets Better”…..it really does.

Here are some important Suicide Prevention Resources:

Spreading Awareness About PPD

I had my annual gyno exam the other day, and like previous years, I checked to see whether there were any pamphlets on postpartum depression (PPD) available to patients or a poster on PPD hanging anywhere in the waiting room or each of the patient rooms.   What did my search come up with?  Nothing.  Nada.  Not a single pamphlet or poster.  I was extremely disappointed.  In previous years, there was at least the “Speak Up When You’re Down” poster hanging in the general waiting room, but not this time.  Not sure what happened to the old poster.  Obviously, someone took it down….not sure why, it’s not like a hanging poster would get frayed or anything….and didn’t bother to hang another one up in its place.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again a million times.  All it takes for more awareness is for information to be made available.  If a doctor doesn’t do his (or her) duty to inform an expectant mother about PPD–including its symptoms and its risk factors– by verbally spending a few minutes in an antenatal appointment going over them, the least he (or she) can do is provide pamphlets and hang a poster in each of his waiting and patient rooms.   I’ve also mentioned previously that–and this is from personal experience–a pamphlet is just a piece of paper that can easily be discarded especially if you don’t realize the significance of the information that is printed on it.   A pamphlet needs to be accompanied by a doctor’s emphasizing that this information is important and why.  Otherwise, that piece of paper is as good as garbage.  If my doctor had given me the pamphlet at a prenatal checkup without an explanation, I would’ve just tossed it away, thinking something like PPD could never happen to me.

Well, you don’t need to be an OB/GYN to read this post and do something.  You can be a patient that wants to be empowered with knowledge that can make a difference in her pregnancy and postpartum experience.  You can be a patient that asks the OB/GYN for information, and if that doctor doesn’t know much about PPD, you just might want to consider finding one that does.  You can ask your OB/GYN why he (or she) doesn’t have any pamphlets available to patients or posters hanging on his walls.  You can tell him (or her) how to get free posters.  Or you can be like me and look into ordering free posters to hang up in your OB/GYN’s office.  I am going to order a Postpartum Support International (PSI) poster for my OB/GYN’s office.

Click here to find out how to order free PSI posters.

Massachusetts Postpartum Depression Legislation Signed into Law Today!

Quick post for the purposes of expressing my elation over the fact that the Massachusetts Postpartum Depression legislation has been signed into law today, Thursday, August 19, 2010!  Yep.  The Massachusetts Governor has signed House Bill 4859, otherwise referred to as Chapter 313, An Act Relative to Postpartum Depression.   Click here for more details.

HURRAY FOR PROGRESS!

Similar to the Mother’s Act passed at the Federal level, HB 4859 stipulates a focus on earlier detection of postpartum mood disorders through screenings, improved collaborative efforts among health professionals for the treatment and referral of patients, the training healthcare providers, and public awareness campaigns.  Click here for an excerpt of the bill. 

It’s exciting to see these changes occurring across the country, isn’t it?!  Click here for details on the latest in legislative developments relating to maternal mental health.

Blogs Speak to Different People Differently

Feels like ages ago since my last post.  Anyway, I was motivated by Katherine Stone’s post from last week titled “Diverse Voices Are Important to Suffering Mothers” to write this post.   

I agree 100% with Katherine in that “Different people respond to different voices and different experiences.”  That’s why the more women who speak up about their postpartum depression (PPD) experiences, the more people we will reach–not just literally in terms of numbers and geographic locations, but figuratively in terms of being able to get through to all kinds of women.   Katherine’s Postpartum Progress blog has over the years cultivated a huge following worldwide.   She empowers women with knowledge about perinatal mood disorders.   Through the information she shares, she helps women suffering from PPD feel less alone in their experiences. 

Lauren Hale over at My Postpartum Voice and Amber Koter-Puline over at Beyond Postpartum are also wonderful examples of PPD bloggers who share the same goal as Katherine.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again….it’s these three inspiring women that have motivated me to devote my blog completely to PPD and other perinatal mood disorders.  We blog with the hope there will be fewer moms out there suffering the way we had suffered.   Though each one of these ladies has their own style and approach, they are all very focused on providing support.   

So, what’s my angle?  I always voice my own opinion on each one of my weekly blog posts.  I also voice my anger in response to ignorant comments made about perinatal mood disorders, or mental health, in general.  As some of my blog followers are already aware, my #1 pet peeve is behavior/remarks made out of ignorance, prejudism, condescension.    This comes about as a result of how I was picked on in high school.   Do I regret those days?  Sure.  But if it hadn’t been for my experience growing up, I probably wouldn’t be the way I am today, trying to tackle ignorant comments whenever they come up.  Whether they are in the form of media attempts to educate people about PPD or blog posts (and let’s not forget comments), I am going to speak my mind and point out incorrect/ignorant statements.  

My style may not be as “warm and fuzzy” as my fellow PPD bloggers, but that’s just me.  I am an analytical/scientific/logical kind of person, which comes from my being a science major in college.   My style or approach to blogging about PPD may not resonate with many of the mommas out there.  My reaction–or shall I say anger–to ignorant comments may scare some mommas away just as easily as it may attract followers.  As Katherine stated in her post:  “You may not like what someone says or how they said it, but if it helps a woman who is suffering and feels alone that’s what is important.  At least, that’s what is important to me.”  Amen, Katherine, Amen!

Not everyone is going to like my blog, as I’m sure no one blog is going to appeal to everyone.  Just like everyone is unique, every blog offers a different voice, a different experience.   Just like Katherine indicated, you can always start up your own blog, if you haven’t done so already and join the growing number of women who are speaking up about their PPD experiences.  Say it in your own way.  After all, that was the original purpose for having a blog–to keep an online diary of your thoughts and experiences.  We’ve come a long way from keeping personal diaries of one’s thoughts and feelings to be kept to yourself versus a blog, which anyone with a PC and Internet access can view in today’s digital way of life.

My latest example of tackling ignorant comments about PPD came about this past Sunday, July 4th.   All I wanted to do was search for the latest news on Georgette Massi, the woman from Mahwah, NJ, who drove drunk with 3 small children in her car less than a couple months ago.  There was this website that came up first when I did a search for her name on Google.  Well, I did what I probably shouldn’t have done, especially on a holiday as we were getting ready to celebrate with friends, which is read the comments.  There was one that had a warning flag of “Beware of possible ignorant comment and angry person behind comment.”  And what did I choose to do?  Reply to the comment with my typical FYI.  My gut was telling me that the link to my post about the possible correlation between PPD and the rise in the number of drunk driving moms (with kids under one) would spark a negative reaction, and boy, did it do that!  But I felt it was contained because the voice behind the person exchanging comments with me (not the one I addressed in my comment) sounded reasonable, relatively speaking.  Then, like 2 days later (today), while writing this post and going to the site to retrieve the title and URL (which I’ve subsequently dropped from this post because that site does NOT deserve any attention whatsoever), I did what I probably shouldn’t have done, which is check to see if there were any new comments.  Lo and behold, there was one.  And boy, was it a doozy.  This one was from the person whose comment I addressed on Sunday.   There was no reason behind it.  Just anger.  And this coming from a PPD survivor!  I couldn’t believe it.   She had blinders on and had no intention of taking them off.  Nah, she was not going to be open-minded, mature or intelligent.  There was only one way of thinking and it was all hers, as wrong as it was.  It was her way or the high way.  

Well, like I said earlier in this post, there are many kinds of people out there.  Some who survive experiences to be stronger, more empathetic people who want to make a positive difference for others.  And there are those who survive their experiences with a crapful of anger directed at everyone else, where there is no room for reasoning.  Just anger.  They don’t care about anyone else.  They don’t want to help anyone else.  Paying it forward doesn’t exist in their vocabulary.  Hey, all I can say to that is, there is such a thing as karma.  What comes around, goes around. 

Am I a masochist?  Maybe.  My friends and husband call me crazy.  What I really believe is that by tackling the comments as I see them, I am in essence tackling the stigma of mental illness.  It’s such a monster to have to tackle.  But where there’s a will, there’s a way.  And I’m hoping that with all our voices speaking up, we will chip away at the stigma so that women don’t have to continue suffering in silence, ashamed, embarrassed and not necessarily knowing what is happening to them.  And unlike what this “PPD survivor” was ranting at me, all belligerent and everything, no, not every woman with PPD is going to know she has PPD.  If that were the case we would be much ahead of where we are today!  The sad truth is that not every woman is going to know  she has PPD since everyone doesn’t know what the symptoms are.  Many women realize there’s this stigma and keep their experience unnecessarily to themselves, hiding behind a facade of smiles when deep down inside they are crying.  They want their motherhood experiences to be joyous and feel ashamed/guilty for not being able to have that experience.   And then to make matters worse, not all doctors diagnose correctly.

Be the Change, Be an Advocate, Help Other Moms

Some of you are probably thinking “Well, looky here….Ivy finally posted this.”  Yes, I know some of you who have your blog set up to receive my new blog posts have seen this title come up a few weeks ago.  I was indeed planning to post this a few weeks ago, but before I had a chance to write anything, I hit “Publish” by mistake.  And then of course another topic came along that I felt had to be published right away.  Before I realized it, a few weeks have gone by.  I finally found the opportunity to write this one up.

Why I Do What I Do

Those impassioned about certain causes usually aren’t motivated in such fashion unless they are directly impacted by a life-changing experience such as illness or death of a loved one.  It takes life-altering experiences, such as cancer, postpartum depression (PPD), or surviving the death of a loved one to motivate individuals to try to make a difference in the world and to try to help others.  Some are determined to help others by sharing their stories, like Brooke Shields, Marie Osmond, and Lance Armstrong. Others do what they never dreamed they would ever do, like run for United States Congress, which is what Carolyn McCarthy did after her husband was killed and her son was severely injured during the Long Island Railroad Massacre, and after the representative in her district voted against an assault weapons bill.  

For me, it was anger of people’s ignorance – those who were my doctors, those to whom I’ve talked and those in the media who say stupid things – that propelled me to write a book.  I was angered by the way I was treated by my doctors.  Angry for no one telling me about PPD in the first place and the lack of information that is given to the public via magazines, hospital training, doctors’ offices, and television.   Angry for the way society makes assumptions that all mothers have smooth and easy pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum experiences.   I decided I would channel all the energy stemming from my anger and do something positive and try to help others.  I would tell my story in the hopes of helping and educating as many people as possible about this silent and potentially deadly condition.  I would chronicle my experience and share the horrific feelings and manifestations of PPD that I experienced, so that others can know better what to look for.  

Determined to learn more about this misunderstood, underdiagnosed and undertreated illness, I joined Postpartum Support International in 2006 and attended two annual conferences since to network with and pick up the latest information from subject matter experts.   Each time I sat down at the computer to write more, I felt lighter and lighter.  I have never believed in keeping things to myself.  It is not healthy to keep things all bottled up.  Keeping things bottled up and keeping yourself so busy you don’t have time to think about things that are bothering you—these are popular tactics used to avoid having to deal with problems at hand.  But there is a major price to pay when it comes to doing either.  To maintain a healthy body and mind, you need to deal with the problem, rather than letting it build up over time until the brain becomes overloaded with stress, which can have mood and behavior consequences.  You need to talk about whatever is bothering you either verbally or in writing.  

I’m of the mindset that things happen in for a reason.  If I hadn’t gone down that incredibly painful path and been angered by the idiotic rantings of Tom Cruise and angered by the lack of compassion and understanding of the medical professionals with whom I sought treatment, I would not have felt impassioned about the topic of PPD and about writing a book….or blogging, for that matter.   Having my own blog has given me more courage in speaking out about my PPD experiences and what I have learned from those experiences to others. 

Be the Change

If we all adapted the attitude or belief that each individual is capable of helping to bring about change, the odds would be in our favor in terms of reducing the numbers of moms suffering unnecessarily from it each and every year, and perhaps–just perhaps–lowering the PPD occurrence rate….because and repeat after me “KNOWLEDGE IS POWER.”    If we all just sat on our tushes, waiting for the next woman to do something to make a difference, change will continue to crawl along at a snail’s pace.  Just as my experience with PPD has inspired me to write this book and set up my own blog, as well as tell people in person about my experience whenever the topic comes up, I hope your experience inspires you to try to increase awareness of this common and all-too-often ignored illness.  I hope you will feel the same urge to share your experience with others, so that in the long run, there will no longer be ignorance about PPD and as a result, fewer women will suffer this debilitating illness at a time when they should be enjoying their babies.  I hope you feel the same passion to help other mothers get access to the resources and treatment needed for a speedy recovery.

Be An Advocate

There is still too much ignorance out there about PPD.  If you are currently suffering from PPD, consider joining the ranks of PPD advocates like Katherine Stone, Lauren Hale and Amber Koter-Puline to educate others after your recovery.  Be a legislative advocate like Susan Dowd Stone, whose efforts to support the Mother’s Act sponsored by Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) helped push it through recently under the Health Insurance Reform.  Join Postpartum Support International and consider being a regional coordinator to provide support and local resources to PPD moms, start a blog, create a website, advocate education to expectant parents by hospitals, advocate education to all medical school students, or travel around the country to educate others about this serious condition affecting so many women, create a PPD support group, or write a book about your experience. 

As long as society remains ignorant about PPD, the stigma associated with mental illnesses–particularly around a time that is supposed to be happy (i.e., childbirth)–will continue to keep mothers mouths shut and suffering unnecessarily in silence.  It’s unfortunate how so many mothers suffering from PPD tend to feel ashamed for not being able to cope like all other mothers around them (not realizing that many around them may also be suffering in silence).

The more PPD survivors speak up, the more people in general will know about PPD.  Then, hopefully, PPD moms will feel less afraid to speak up and seek help.  PPD survivors must come together to break down that wall of silence and fight the stigma associated with PPD.  Look how long it’s taken to get where we are today.  If we sit there and don’t do anything, do you think change will happen on its own?  Do you think research will continue full-steam ahead?   I don’t think so.  So, it’s up to us PPD survivors to make a difference for our fellow women. 

Last but not least, and I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again…..progress in destigmatization of depression and postpartum depression includes addressing ignorant remarks whenever they are heard.  Simply ignoring them won’t accomplish anything, least of all public awareness.    For all those who are PPD survivors, whenever you hear people say off-the-mark comments about PPD, speak up and be heard! 

Help Other Moms

If you are currently suffering from PPD, consider helping other moms after your recovery.  Being a warmline volunteer and/or PPD support group volunteer would be tremendously beneficial to a mother who is suffering PPD.   Just think of it this way.  Try thinking back to the time when you wished you had someone to talk to about your experience, someone who could understand what you were going through.  Wouldn’t it have made a difference had you met a PPD survivor—a mother who has been through what you are going through and who is living proof that you too will get well? 

If there is a lack of PPD or postpartum support groups near you, after you are well again, you may want to consider forming one with other PPD survivors.  We need more leaders like Jane Honickman to take initiative and more organizations like Santa Barbara Postpartum Education for Parents need to exist.  She also, incidently, founded Postpartum Support International.    Now, this is what I call BEING THE CHANGE!

Dr. Shoshana Bennett is a 2-time survivor of undiagnosed PPD who was inspired by her experience to become an expert on PPD, having published multiple books, earning multiple degrees (2 masters degrees, a PhD and licensing as a clinical psychologist), founding one of the first postpartum groups in the country in 1987, acting as former President of Postpartum Support International, helping over 18,000 women worldwide through individual consultations, support groups and wellness seminars, traveling all over the world as guest lecturer and keynote speaker, and training medical and mental health professionals to assess and treat perinatal mood disorders.  Now, this is what I call BEING THE CHANGE!

April 13, 2010 is 4th Anniversary of New Jersey’s Postpartum Depression Law

Four years ago today, New Jersey became the first state in the country to pass legislation requiring healthcare professionals to educate and screen all new mothers for postpartum depression (PPD). 

Since then, New Jersey’s Dept of Health and Senior Services’ Speak Up When You’re Down campaign has:

The key to helping mothers and their families minimize the risk (or effects, if it does occur) of PPD is early identification (via screening) and education (via awareness campaigns and ensuring healthcare providers are all aware).   Through knowledge of risk factors, symptoms, and services available locally, mothers and their families will be able to recognize sumptoms of PPD early on, as well as take immediate action to ensure proper diagnosis and treatment.

I’d just like to clarify what screening is.  It sounds like poking and prodding is involved.  No, women are not treated like lab rats or anything like that.  Screening is merely a doctor proactively asking some questions to ascertain whether a new mother entrusted to his care is exhibiting any signs of PPD.   The most widely-used screening tool for PPD is The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS), which many hospitals in New Jersey have elected to use.   It’s also important to note that, though doctors are required to screen all new mothers in their care, a mother has the right to refuse to answer some or all of the questions. 

I wish this legislation were in effect back when I had my daughter!  There are many others that feel the same way as I do.  Before this legislation went into effect four years ago, some doctors were already asking all new moms fundamental questions at each visit to ascertain if there are any symptoms of PPD, since after all it does occur in as many as one in eight new mothers!  One of the reasons why this legislation was necessary is because there are still so many doctors out there who don’t go the extra mile where their patients are concerned–and worse fail to diagnose PPD properly.  The screening should currently be taking place as the new mom leaves the hospital after having her baby, plus at her 6-week follow-up with her OB/GYN.   Since so many cases of PPD develop before the six-week follow-up visit, at some point–and I fear this may never happen because it would require a huge change in health insurance and ACOG (and whatever other organization that would have anything to do with this) — a 3- or 4-week follow-up visit becomes a requirement/standard.    What a HUGE difference this would make, wouldn’t it?!   Maybe if enough people push for this, it will happen.  One can only hope…and dream.