This is, perhaps, the myth that is most voiced and de-bunked early on in my work with new moms. Moms who are struggling with postpartum depression feel so much guilt for not being well. They judge themselves up and down and around the block for dreading the night time feedings, for questioning whether or not they “should have done this,” for feeling claustrophobic when holding their babies all day, for not enjoying breast feeding, and for wanting – more than anything – a full night’s sleep. Each mom who comes to see me for support postpartum is afraid, at least initially, that I will think she is not cut out for motherhood and that she is a “bad mom” for not loving the early weeks and months to pieces.
Archives for November 2011
Do you know what your thyroid does? I didn’t, so I had to look it up before I could write about the fact that thyroiditis can cause symptoms that mimic postpartum depression. It turns out only a minority of women with postpartum depression have symptoms caused solely by problems with their thyroid function, but even so it’s worth getting your thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels checked to find out if you’re one of them. If you are, treatment with thyroid medication should clear the depression symptoms right up.
The New York Times reported last week on researchers who found that treating subclinical hypothyroidism may help relieve depression or fatigue symptoms. Right now, most people are only treated if their TSH is 10 or higher. This particular study looks at the potential of treating people with TSH levels in the 5-10 range. That approach is controversial because thyroid medication can have negative side effects.
Still, this is an important topic given how many women have thyroid problems. [Read more…]
[Editor’s Note: November 19 is International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day. On this day survivors of suicide loss gather at hundreds of simultaneous healing conferences around the world every year to connect with others who have survived the tragedy of suicide loss and express and start to understand the powerful emotions we experience. For more information about a conference near you, visit the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention.]
My story of suicide loss begins more than 35 years ago. My cousin’s mom died by suicide when he was just a baby. All these years it never occurred to me that she was probably suffering from postpartum depression—or perhaps even postpartum psychosis—at the time of her death.
It’s not something my family openly discussed, but my perception had mistakenly always been “Oh, she must not have wanted to be a mom.” How very naive of me.
After years of experience with my own depression and mental health issues postpartum, it’s become clear to me that she was suffering like so many women from a postpartum illness like postpartum depression. She needed treatment that apparently she never got, in a time when such topics were even more taboo than they are today.
Last year, my life-long friend Dina died by suicide at Christmas. She wasn’t in the postpartum period at the time. (Her son was 15.) But many years ago when he was just over two, she came to me with suicidal thoughts. We were in our early 20s and I had yet to experience mental illness.
She and her husband were splitting up, and Dina believed her son would be better off not knowing or remembering her. I knew without a doubt that wasn’t true and found the courage to tell her parents and then husband what she told me.
It turns out that wasn’t her first suicidal ideation. In fact, she was probably predisposed to mental illness. And during that prime postpartum period with the stress of being a young mother and impending divorce, I wouldn’t be surprised if she had also been suffering from postpartum depression never properly treated. And I’ve come to learn that untreated postpartum illness often leads to ongoing chronic mental illness.
I’ve had other friends attempt and complete suicide, too many times in fact. I’ve also experienced my own times of suicidal thoughts. I write this not for shock value but because this is a topic that is so important to me to keep talking about. To advocate for mental health awareness. To help others feel not so alone in their struggles.
Today, most importantly I want to honor those of us who are surviving the loss of a loved one to suicide. The grief, the guilt, the intense sadness never fully goes away.
Suicide is a permanent answer to a temporary or often treatable problem. And it’s estimated that 90% of suicides are by people with mental illness that has most likely gone untreated, such as postpartum depression or psychosis.
The family and loved ones who are left behind suffer the consequences, the questions, the stigma. My cousin, my friend’s parents and son, me and other loved ones. For every death by suicide, there are tens or even hundreds more who are living with it every day, those who often times blame themselves for an act that, in all honesty, was out of their control. An act done out of intense pain and true illness.
The grief of suicide is not a competition. One person does not “grieve more” or have a right to grieve more than any other. I have the right to grieve Dina in my own way, just as each of her loved ones do. I say “in my own way,” because I’ve also learned that each of us lives with suicide loss in very different ways. And that’s okay.
If the grief and pain of loss begins to overtake you, it’s unbelievably important to seek the help and support you need to heal through the loss. To find others who understand. To share your story of love and loss with those who need to hear it. I promise it will help you too.
Today I’m here to say that I am the face of suicide loss. And I’m here if you need me.
What beautiful person have you lost to suicide? How are you doing surviving his or her loss? Share your story and break the stigma.
If you’re facing suicidal thoughts, reach out for help. Call 1-800-273-8255 to speak to someone at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Today is my last day as a community leader for the Million Moms Challenge. A group of lovely new moms is about to take over for month three. I just want to exhort you — yes, EXHORT — to join the challenge. It’s easy. It’s free. And you can help ensure that Johnson & Johnson donates $100,000 to charities that focus on maternal health throughout the world.
You also have the opportunity to win an iPad2 by replying to any of the discussions I started in the Million Moms Challenge forum (or any of the other discussions) so I’m giving you some links in case you’d like to get yourself entered into that contest: