The Dangers of Telling Moms to Think Away Depression
byJenna HatfieldJan 28, 2016
Photograph by Twenty20
After a New York Times article about updated Health and Human Services guidelines calling for depression screenings before and after pregnancy, a prominent author questioned the need for pharmaceutical treatments. Marianne Williamson, author of "The Divine Compensation" among other works, tweeted:
That's when Katherine Stone and her team at Postpartum Progress got to work. Knowing that prescription medications have helped countless women during and after the birth of a child, the advocacy group immediately launched a hashtag campaign, #meditateonthis, which at publication (and less than 24 hours) had reached more than 2 million.
At Mom.me's request, Jenna Hatfield wrote about the work of Postpartum Progress, how moms experience depression and the life-saving conversations and options millions of women need to have but frequently do not get—often due to a perceived stigma, which comments like Williamson's can only exacerbate.
At Postpartum Progress we communicate with moms every single day who tell us how much they didn't know about postpartum depression.
"I didn't know anger and rage were symptoms of PPD."
"I had no clue what intrusive thoughts were. I just thought I was a bad mom."
"I thought my fears were normal. I didn't know that postpartum anxiety had taken over my brain."
Over and over again, and still in 2016, moms tell us they simply didn't know. Their doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers are not telling them, screening them, warning them of the possibility of postpartum mood and anxiety disorders before they occur. By the time a mom realizes something might actually be wrong, she's already in the throes of PPD or PPA and too often afraid to reach out. Screening for all pregnant women and new moms, as recommended by the U.S. Preventive Task Force, can help so many moms, so many families, before it's too late.
Screening mothers for depression doesn't mean we're going to immediately put pills in their hands. Mothers still have the right to choose their path of treatment.
Take for example the mothers who don't have easy access to mental health care, due to where they live or the stigma surrounding mental illness in their culture. Poverty also creates a barrier to access. Both leave us with too many moms who are suffering silently and needlessly in this country.
If a doctor had screened a rural mom when she made a trip for a pregnancy check up—had talked about the symptoms of prenatal and postpartum depression with her—maybe she would feel able to call the doctor back when the voice won't stop telling her she's never going to be a good enough mom.
If a nurse had told a mom that maternal mental illness wasn't something to be ashamed of, that it was treatable, maybe another mom wouldn't hide it from her family out of fear they'd judge her or that someone else might take her baby.
Screening mothers for depression doesn't mean we're going to immediately put pills in their hands. Mothers still have the right to choose their path of treatment. Screening means putting moms on the right track to choose what's best for them. For some, that will involve a mixed bag of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, exercise, proper nutrition and meditation or prayer. For others, it means medication. Still others will find it's a journey of trial and error to find what works best, what helps heal her mind—and, what is working best for her heart. Because make no mistake, the mother who suffers from postpartum depression already holds enough guilt and shame against herself without the added weight of stigma from people who don't know them, their mental health history, their symptoms or their life experience.
'All too often women suffering from postpartum mood and anxiety disorders experience exactly what Marianne did; the oversimplification and reduction of their very real suffering.'
That's why moms joined together with Postpartum Progress to tweet their truths about postpartum depression, medication and treatment with the hashtag #meditateonthis last night. Beyond feeling infuriated that New York Times best-selling author Marianne Williamson stigmatized and shamed mothers with postpartum depression, our moms wanted to help other moms. Our moms want other moms to know that their experience is valid, that their lives matter, and that they are not alone. These Warrior Moms wanted to correct the harmful misinformation spread by a woman with a lot of social influence by sharing their truths, the real facts, the hope that comes with beating a maternal mental illness.
It's why we do what we do. It's why this is exactly why we work so hard to organize awareness building events like Climb Out of the Darkness®. As our Climb Out Manager, Jasmine Banks says, "All too often women suffering from postpartum mood and anxiety disorders experience exactly what Marianne did; the oversimplification and reduction of their very real suffering. This is dangerous because women are pressured to believe that their pain and suffering is 'just normal' and that they shouldn't "make a big deal about it."
For every medication nay-sayer, there are hundreds of other moms who are currently loving on their families because of medication. For every woman who puts down another for not "praying hard enough" to get out of postpartum depression, Warrior Moms wait in the wings to pull these hurting souls into their arms, to lift them up and to say, "You are worth this fight."