Recognizing Undiagnosed Postpartum Depression

Recognizing Undiagnosed Postpartum Depression

At the age of 24, after the birth of our first son and deep in the throes of postpartum depression and anxiety, my therapist also diagnosed me with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. She explained I’d likely lived with the disorder most of my life.

Suddenly, much of my life made a whole lot more sense.

That freak out during the college application process? The heart monitoring I’d had done during my sophomore year of high school for “chest pain” that went unexplained? Sweat-inducing panic before tests? The antenatal depression I experienced with my daughter?

I made a lot of life choices—and mistakes—not understanding I lived with an anxiety disorder. I thought I lacked something that came to others easily. I didn’t understand I needed help, both from a therapist and occasionally medication, to help me function at my best.

Over a decade later, I now know how to cope with my anxiety and recognize when I’m slipping into a depressive episode. I have plans for what to do when I feel a panic attack coming on, and it’s all because I understand my diagnosis.

That’s why I have a really deep problem with an article written last month entitled, “Stop Whoring Out Your Undiagnosed Mental Illness.”

I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

And too many moms who experience postpartum mood and anxiety disorders don’t know what they don’t know.

At Postpartum Progress, we’re working really hard to raise awareness and break the stigma of postpartum depression, anxiety, OCD, bipolar, psychosis, PTSD, and all their various symptoms. We regularly share stories from moms who state they didn’t know anything about the mood disorder they experienced. They felt sideswiped by PMADs during what everyone else told them should have been the happiest time of their lives.

According to the CDC, 1 in 7 women will experience postpartum depression. And that’s just those who self-report and seek care by a professional. That number doesn’t include postpartum anxiety, psychosis, OCD, PTSD, and the other postpartum mood and anxiety disorders outside the PPD diagnosis. That number doesn’t include those who, for whatever reason—stigma, fear, ignorance of symptoms, family pressure, stubbornness—don’t seek care.

Only 15% of moms who experience symptoms seek care. Fifteen percent. That’s a lot of moms walking around with undiagnosed postpartum depression.

Too many moms still live through their child’s first year—and beyond—not understanding that motherhood doesn’t have to feel hopeless. That they don’t need to feel filled with rage. That intrusive thoughts don’t actually mean they’ll hurt their child. That it’s not normal to feel so overwhelmed with anxiety that you fear leaving the house, letting others hold your baby, or letting your child sleep.

Additionally, too many doctors miss and dismiss postpartum depression. “You’re a new mom. It’s supposed to feel hard.” Moms who find the courage to ask for help are turned away, feeling as though they’re just not good enough at motherhood. That instead of having a mood disorder, they’re just doing the whole mom thing wrong.

And let’s talk access: While the author of the offending article added a disclaimer that she didn’t mean to attack those who can’t afford care, access to care is a huge issues for those experiencing mental illness. Beyond economic disparity, wagging your finger at undiagnosed mental illness ignores the cultural stigmas that prevent some mothers from seeking care because mental illness is not okay within their society.

What we don’t need is an article telling anyone to stop complaining about their undiagnosed mental illnesses. Ever. Doing so leaves those who know they’re experiencing something feeling more silenced than ever. Doing so leaves moms who feel weighed down by the stigma of postpartum mood and anxiety disorders unable to push through and seek care.

What we do need is a society that welcomes those with mental illness and encourages them to seek care. One who meets them where they are and says, “I am here for you.” One that says, “It’s okay if you’re feeling this way. There’s hope. There’s help.”

When we attempt to silence hurting individuals, we hurt us all.

If you need help reaching out to seek care for postpartum mood and anxiety disorders for the first time, please let us know. We can connect you with specialists or support groups or Warrior Mom Ambassadors in your area who will lead you through the process.

You are not alone, diagnosed yet or not.

Our Wish for All Moms Experiencing Postpartum Mood & Anxiety Disorders

Our Wish for All Moms Experiencing Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders -postpartumprogress.com

Hayden Panettiere spoke yesterday about the amazing support she received when she announced she was entering treatment for postpartum depression.

“The more open I was, the more acceptance I got from people,” she said. “I got so much support and so much love. I was floored. I feel much more exposed, yes, but in a great way.”

She’s been open, honest, and vocal about her experience, and we continue to love the way she’s using her experience to educate and destigmatize postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. The more the general public hears about postpartum depression, the more it becomes less scary, less “other,” and the more likely moms might be to reach out for help when they’re suffering.

But the truth is this: Even Hayden was shocked that she received support.

Moms remain silent, hiding their symptoms from even those they’re closest to, out of fear of being judged, fear of being told they’re not a good mother, fear of admitting what they perceive to be some kind of inherent female flaw. Whether it’s their first or their fifth child, moms experiencing a postpartum mood and anxiety disorder fear they’re just bad moms. Not good enough. Broken.

Unfortunately, the stigma of maternal mental health isn’t imaginary. These moms don’t fear the reactions of others without reason. People, sometimes even with good intentions, spout of all kinds of things which aren’t helpful at best and, at their worst, can destroy a mom’s sense of self-worth.

“I don’t know why you aren’t feeling bonded with your baby; I loved my daughter the moment I set eyes on her.” “I’ve never felt resentment for my child. What’s wrong with you?” “You’re just not trying hard enough.” “Pray harder.” “If you hadn’t quit breastfeeding, you’d be feeling better.” “If you’d quit breastfeeding, you’d feel better.” “Exercise more.” “Taking time for yourself is selfish.” “This is supposed to be the happiest time of your life.”

Moms hear these things. They internalize them. They hear the unspoken point of the words: You’re doing motherhood wrong. Something is wrong with you.

Mothers experiencing these mental illnesses need to hear that they are normal. That 1 in 7 moms experiences a postpartum mood and anxiety disorder. That postpartum depression and its cousins are temporary and treatable. That one day motherhood won’t feel like this. That they are good moms.

Good Moms.

Moms with postpartum depression are good moms. Moms experiencing postpartum anxiety are good moms. And postpartum OCD. And postpartum psychosis. And postpartum bipolar. And postpartum PTSD. And moms experiencing intrusive thoughts or suicidal ideation or insomnia or rage or crippling fear or all of the above. Moms seeking care for mental illness are good moms. Moms struggling to reach out for help are good moms. Moms who don’t know what’s happening inside their head and body are still good moms.

Our wish is that all moms would not just realize that postpartum mental illness doesn’t define their motherhood but that all moms would feel supported in their battle against postpartum depression and other postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. That when a mom starts to feel like something might not be right, she can reach out to those closest to her or seek care from a doctor, nurse, therapist, or do research online without fear of judgment or some form of punishment. That moms won’t feel silenced by social, cultural, or religious beliefs in their own communities. That moms can share their stories, online and off, to receive support without nasty comments or dismissive tones. That as mothers beat postpartum depression, they can reply in kind to those just starting their own battles, offering support and hope.

Peer support isn’t just part of our mission because we think it’s trendy. Peer support is our model of support because we know that receiving support for postpartum mood and anxiety disorders means the world to moms. It works. It changes the lives of moms and helps babies and families. Supporting moms where they are with what they need, no matter their diagnosis, should be a goal for all.

Finding the Good After a Loss to Suicide

Our community feels a little lost, a little angry, a little unsettled right now in light of the loss of a mama to postpartum depression. We’ve been talking about it and how the loss to suicide of Sasha Hettich has affected us on our Facebook page, so I thought perhaps we didn’t need a post here on the blog.

But as I’ve watched things unfold, online and off, in the wake of this loss, I’ve seen some beautiful things happen. If you’re not looking at the whole picture, it’s easy to miss the beauty in the ashes, so I thought I’d share how I’m finding the good after this loss to suicide by postpartum depression.

Finding the Good After a Loss to Suicide -postpartumprogress.com

Finding the Good

1. Sasha Hettich’s husband speaks beautifully and breaks stigma.

If you haven’t yet watched the video of Cody Hettich, Sasha’s husband, speaking out about the need to break the stigmas of mental illness, you need to do so now.

Less than a week after the loss of his wife, he chose to speak out, to share the truth about what mothers and families need as a mom battles postpartum depression. What they don’t need, of course, is the stigma of people saying depressed women don’t need to have children. What they do need is support, love, compassion, caring. And yes, sometimes it’s not enough; a woman gets lost in the darkness and can’t find the light. But Cody’s choice to share their story, their truth, only means that more women will know about available support, will know that they can and should ask for help. It means more dads might better recognize the signs and symptoms in their own partners before it’s too late.

2. The Warrior Mom community is pulling together.

In the wake of this loss, we’ve seen thousands of women pull together. A milk drive was created in order to provide breast milk for Baby Gus who is five months old. A GoFundMe was started to provide for the family and currently (as of writing) sits at over $12,000. Women who never met Sasha but know the horrors of living with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders banded together to do what they could, to support how they could.

I’ve also watched our Warrior Moms combat stigma on Facebook when judgmental people leave unnecessary comments full of misguided information and uninformed opinion. They’ve shared how stigma hurts moms, how it’s not always easy to seek care due to fear of treatment or lack of resources in their area. They’ve fought the fight against misinformation and a lack of compassion. They’ve done so well; I feel so proud of each and every one of them.

Additionally, I’ve watched as Warrior Moms surrounded other Warrior Moms who felt deeply triggered, hurt, scared, and confused by this loss in our community. They’ve encouraged each other to practice self-care. I watched as one mom invited another to a postpartum depression support group, and was moved to tears by the compassion I saw as they reached for each other. I’ve seen mamas lift each other up, share their stories, and love on one another in ways that these mothers truly needed to get through this time. It’s felt encouraging to witness.

3. The more we talk about suicide, the more we support each other.

Even in mental health safe spaces like Postpartum Progress, we tend to shy away from talking about suicide too much. It feels too big to tackle sometimes. No one really wants to go there out of fear or triggering another mama. Sometimes moms fear that by discussing suicide, even with their therapists, they’ll be classified as suicidal and thus risk losing their kids.

But being honest about suicidal thinking—what it looks like, when it happens, what to do about it—is important. It’s important because you don’t have to live with those thoughts. You deserve freedom from those thoughts, and the first step in getting free from them is admitting that they exist. It’s scary to admit to your therapist you have those thoughts when they ask, but it will help you.

And yet…

We recognize none of the good we seek after this loss will bring Sasha back. We would give up all this good to have her back. It feels like a personal blow to each of us, and we realize how much more devastating her loss must feel for those who knew and loved her personally. To them we extend our love, our sympathy, our condolences, our thoughts and prayers. Please know that during this dark time, we are here for you as well.

If this suicide has left you feeling vulnerable we encourage you to reach out to your support system, be it your partner, best friend, family member, or therapist. You can also read our post, Facing the Loss of a Loved One to Suicide. If you feel like you want to talk to one of us, feel free to contact us via our Facebook page. We also strongly encourage you to check out our private forum at Smart Patients where you can talk to other moms in a protected venue about your fears and feelings.

Lastly, if you are having suicidal thoughts or considering suicide, please go to your local emergency room or call the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-8255. But know this: You are not alone.

Postpartum Depression Stigma Persists Even In Federal Government

Postpartum Depression Stigma Still Exists, Even in the Federal Government -postpartumprogress.com
Update: We did hear back from the Office of Women’s Health quite quickly and they apologized for the tweet even though it didn’t come from their office. They assured us that they are fully supportive of moms with perinatal mental illness and that they don’t support stigmatizing language. They’re looking into where the tweet came from and why. We really appreciated the positive and sincere conversation about this. 

Someone told a mom in the Postpartum Progress community the other day that there is no longer any stigma when it comes to postpartum depression. We’re talking about it. We’re doing things about it. Moms need to realize that the stigma has abated! This mom reached out to me because she couldn’t believe what she was hearing. The person who had said that in her presence was a person in a position of leadership, a person with a lot of knowledge about perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. A person who should have known better.

Here at Postpartum Progress we talk to moms from around the US and around the world every day. We know how much the stigma of postpartum depression and related illnesses persists. And worse, we know how much that stigma scares moms and makes them afraid to reach out for the treatment that can help them.

Today I was fortunate to be part of a Twitter chat with the March of Dimes focusing on postpartum depression in NICU moms. Imagine my surprise when a chat that was supposed to help raise awareness and provide support to mothers ended up creating stigma.

Someone officially representing the US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, tweeted the following: “In the United States, postpartum depression is one of the leading causes of murder of children less than one year of age.”

I was stunned. I took a screen capture of the tweet, because I was convinced no one would believe me that a statement like that would be made. It’s not correct. It’s unbelievably stigmatizing. And it came from people responsible for health in our own government. People who should definitely know better.

Tweet from @HHS_OASHRegion2 at 1:32 PM EST on 11/18/15 -postpartumprogress.com
So let’s talk for a minute about perinatal mental health and real information about infanticide. If you are a mom who is sensitive right now, I would suggest not reading any further because data about babies and tragedy can be really hard to deal with when you’re struggling.

Okay? Trigger warning commenced. Okay. 

According to the National Center for Vital Statistics, here are the top 10 leading causes of death of children from 0 to age 1 in the year 2013 (none of these, you’ll notice, is homicide):

  1. Birth defects (congenital anomalies)
  2. Short gestation
  3. Maternal pregnancy complications
  4. SIDS
  5. Unintentional injury
  6. Placenta & cord issues
  7. Bacterial sepsis
  8. Respiratory distress
  9. Circulatory system disease
  10. Neonatal hemorrhage

According to the CDC, there were 23,440 deaths of children between the ages of 0 and 1 in 2013. Their data shows that a total of 282 of those 2013 deaths were homicides, but the data doesn’t drill down any further to offer information about who the perpetrator of the crimes may have been. If you read the infanticide report from Child Trends, a nonprofit nonpartisan research center, however, studies suggest that male caretakers are the perpetrators of the majority of infant homicides.

We can’t ignore, of course, that there is a 4% infanticide rate for women who experience postpartum psychosis. Postpartum psychosis occurs in approximately 1 in 1,000 mothers. Postpartum depression, on the other hand, occurs in 1 in 7 mothers. Thankfully infanticide due to psychosis is rare. It is a very serious illness that can lead a mom to suffer from delusions and/or hallucinations that may lead her to do things she would never otherwise do. This is why it’s so important that we take good care of these moms and that they get the professional medical care they need and deserve… something that is not happening in a lot of places.

Moms with postpartum depression are not likely to harm their kids. That’s the truth. But the fear that they will, or could, is one of the things that makes them afraid to reach out for help. This is what makes them keep their thoughts and feelings to themselves, rather than tell another person. This is why that tweet matters. Because we want women who are struggling to reach out as soon as possible. The sooner they get help the sooner they get better, and that has a big positive impact on both mom’s and baby’s health.

The tweet has since been taken down. That’s important, and we’re glad. It’s a start. But just taking it down doesn’t address what led someone in Health & Human Services to think it was correct and should be shared in the first place. How do we as a community make sure that there is a better understanding of the facts of maternal mental health, and a better understanding of and how to communicate with moms that postpartum depression is common and that it’s important to get help? As the executive director of Postpartum Progress, I have reached out to the Office of Women’s Health and asked them to call us back. We know we can have a really great conversation together. We’ll let you all know what happens next.