“When the Bough Breaks: A Documentary About Postpartum Depression” is not an easy film to watch, but it’s one we all should see.
The film opens with a home movie of Lindsay Gerszt showing off a positive pregnancy test as her husband films. She looks excited and scared and a little shocked. There’s a relatable sense of disbelief that most of us who’ve been pregnant can relate to—the air humming with the knowledge that Lindsay and her husband Bradley’s lives are about to forever change.
But with this pregnancy, something else was set in motion.
“I started having panic attacks and anxiety,” Lindsay says of her pregnancy. Then, shortly after an induction and a difficult birth, she was hit hard with postpartum depression.
Narrated by Brooke Shields, who wrote a memoir about her own battle with postpartum depression, the documentary follows Lindsay’s journey.
“Literally, I used to drop my son off at school and get in bed and waste the day sleeping because it was too painful,” Lindsay says of the time after her son was born.
Lindsay had struggled with depression prior to her pregnancy, and knew she was at high risk for postpartum depression. Despite having the support of a psychiatrist, a doula, and her family, she was slammed by the intensity of her depression. “I was prepared, but nothing can prepare you. It felt like I was out of control and it was never going to go away. I didn’t know how I was going to get through it. It’s like this monster that you can’t escape,” she says.
For Lindsay, the monster lingered for over six years.
The camera shadows her as she experiments with a variety of treatments, including medication, supplements, acupuncture and EMDR, a treatment for trauma.
Among other families featured in the documentary who share their stories about perinatal mood disorders—an umbrella term that encompasses the variety of mental health issues that affect women during pregnancy and postpartum—are several celebrities, including singer Carnie Wilson, celebrity chef Aarti Sequeira, Peggy Tanous from "The Real Housewives of Orange County" and actress Tanya Newbould.
With as many as 20 percent of women struggling with some type of perinatal mood disorder, depression remains the most common complication of pregnancy and childbirth.
While much of the documentary discusses postpartum depression, it also delves into postpartum psychosis, which occurs in between 1 and 2 out of every 1,000 women, and is associated with increased risk for suicide and infanticide. While it may be difficult to watch the segments on postpartum psychosis, the film strives to educate viewers on this topic, and to promote a greater understanding and compassion for families dealing with these issues.
While she doesn’t expect to ever be 100 percent cured from her depression, participating in the documentary provided an unexpected source of healing for Lindsay. She hopes the film will help destigmatize perinatal mood disorders and educate health care providers, as well as the general public.
Awareness of perinatal mood disorders has increased in recent years, but there’s still more work to be done. With as many as 20 percent of women struggling with some type of perinatal mood disorder, depression remains the most common complication of pregnancy and childbirth. And yet, as the movie points out, gestational diabetes, which affects about 7 percent of women, is universally screened for. Depression is not.
Part of the reason for the lag in maternal mental health is due to the stigma associated with mental illness. “When the Bough Breaks" helps viewers come away with a greater understanding that perinatal mood disorders are something that happen to women, in the same way that cancer or other illnesses strike a certain percentage of the population. I think we all can agree it’s not something any woman would choose for herself or her family.
As Raul Martinez, whose wife Kelly died by suicide due while in the throes of postpartum depression, says in the film, “I think people forget that mental illness is a sickness of the brain, which is an organ of the body. When you have heart disease, there’s no stigma attached to it,” he says. “When you have a mental health issue, the brain chemistry actually changes.”
“Making this film took away the stigma and fear,” says Lindsay, who has received many unexpectedly positive responses from friends and acquaintances who’ve watched the documentary. “People are saying, Lindsay, I didn’t know this was your experience. They’re saying, ‘By the way, me too,’” she shares.
Lindsay believes that sharing her story gave her purpose and continues to serve as an advocate for women struggling with postpartum depression. She speaks publicly on the topic, and co-facilitates a support group for new moms in Santa Monica. Her hope is that “When the Bough Breaks” is seen widely, resulting in increased education, awareness and treatment for people suffering from perinatal mood disorders.
"When the Bough Breaks" can be viewed via iTunes.