Mental health

Postpartum depression, treatment & the need to reduce stigma

Sad mother and baby
[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t’s unfortunate, but many women experience depression during pregnancy and the postpartum. They typically suffer in silence and are, too frequently, ashamed to tell their stories. Media coverage is often sensational, and only when something tragic happens is postpartum illness reported on and talked about. A case in point would be a mother killing herself and her baby soon after birth.

But not all cases of “postpartum depression” (PPD) are the same. There is a range in severity of symptoms and problems, and, by and large, the women who end with tragedy likely have also experienced psychotic symptoms. While PPD is a major mental health issue that can often be debilitating and have negative consequences for the woman, her infant and her family, there are many treatment options available, with positive outcomes for women who are able to, and do, seek help.

The problem remains, however, that often times women feel shame, stigma, or even fear, regarding discussing feelings of depression or anxiety with a health care provider or even a family member. I have many patients who tell me that they cannot tell their in-laws or other family members about how they are feeling because they don’t want to be “found out” and seen as bad mothers. These women typically feel so guilty for not being able to “snap out of it”, or, “For giving my baby such a bad start”, or, “For being a bad mother already.” Many women refuse to seek help even when they have been told by a health professional that they may have PPD. And for those that do see a professional, they are often still reluctant to accept treatment.

Fear of affecting the health and safely of their infant while they’re nursing can often be a barrier to taking medicine. Particularly given that all women hear or read about in the media is how “bad” the medications can be. The success stories are rarely reported on. These women may also have to contend with family members or even health-care providers’ opinions around treatment during the perinatal period as well.

The reality is that there are many treatment options available that include both pharmacological and non-pharmacological options, as well as everyday steps that can be taken to help reduce feelings of depression. Exercise, getting sleep, asking for help with everyday tasks and night feedings, as well as talking to friends or other women who have had babies are all important ways of dealing with depression. Education for families and communities around perinatal psychiatric disorders is greatly needed in order to reduce the stigma and the fear that women may have in sharing their symptoms. Increased screening for depression to help identify women so that they can then access the care that they deserve would save lives and contribute to family success.

If you or someone you know is suffering, please urge them to see their family doctor, local health unit or hospital.

Other resources include:

About the author

Dr. Sophie Grigoriadis

Dr. Sophie Grigoriadis is an associate professor at the University of Toronto and Head of the Women’s Mood and Anxiety Clinic: Reproductive Transitions at Sunnybrook.

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