Address Postpartum Depression with Training and Treatment, Not Police
Postpartum depression is an issue that is not often in the media spotlight. But it affects one in seven women and can be a source of fear, uncertainty and anxiety for those who encounter it. That was certainly the case this week when social media blew up around the story of Jessica, a new mother who went to her OB for a check-up and ended up escorted by police to a psych evaluation.
How did this happen? Jessica described to her practitioner her struggles with depression and that, although she would never hurt herself or her baby, she was having violent thoughts. Clinically, these are called intrusive thoughts and they can be a common symptom of postpartum depression and anxiety. Such thoughts are just thoughts, not intentions, and they are not delusions. These thoughts can be very frightening to a mother, causing increased anxiety. But treatment is available. In very rare cases — 1 in 1,000 new mothers — the thoughts are caused by delusions or hallucinations, which can be a sign of postpartum psychosis, a true medical emergency.
Jessica’s story highlights how vital it is that frontline providers receive the training that will help them recognize the symptoms of the common perinatal mood or anxiety disorders vs. psychosis, which requires a fundamentally different and more urgent approach.
This incident also demonstrates the power of misunderstanding and stigma, forcing women into a corner where they feel alone and vulnerable. Women experiencing the symptoms of postpartum depression need to feel comfortable sharing their story with their provider. Frontline providers are a critical link, connecting women with the treatment and support they need in order to help them get better.
Postpartum Support International (PSI) is the leading organization devoted to perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. We provide direct support to mothers, fathers, and extended families, train medical and mental health providers, and act as bridge between the two.
And we offer training to frontline providers on the various forms of perinatal mood and anxiety disorder, including the range of symptoms, proper screening and evaluation tools, and a review of evidence-based treatments. It also covers postpartum psychosis — how to identify it and what steps must be taken to ensure the safety of both mother and baby.
New mothers everywhere need to know this: You are not alone. You are not to blame. With help, you can and will get better. Don’t be afraid to speak out. Seek help. Don’t stay underground. Don’t be deterred by stories like Jessica’s, which are extremely rare.
Your health care provider can help. And so can PSI. We have trained coordinators in every state who can connect you with the people who understand what you are feeling and can support you — including providers who are trained to treat perinatal mental health disorders. Call the PSI warmline at 800–944–4PPD (4773).
New mothers need to know that help is available and all of us — friends, families and health care practitioners need to take the steps necessary to get accurate information. Only then can we support brave new moms like Jessica when they speak up and ask for our help.
Ann Smith is a certified nurse midwife and president of Postpartum Support International.