Fact Checking The Postpartum Depression Doubters: “Pills Are The Easy Way Out”

Gina over at The Feminist Breeder Blog recently realized that she is suffering from postpartum anxiety. She was able to reach out for, and get, help from a psychiatrist.   She wrote about the negative reaction she got on the web from some readers after she said she’d be taking medication in a post titled, “And This Is Why We Don’t Talk About Our Anxiety Problems on the Internet“.

As you might imagine, there were people who think she is wrong to take medication and that there are plenty of other ways to get over depression and anxiety than antidepressants.  You already know how I feel about people who judge others’ treatment decisions.  (Grrrrrrr.)  I thought it would be fun to do a little Fact Check on some of the statements people made, as shared by Gina in her post:

“You can cure this with raw cashews.”

You must be kidding. There is absolutely no scientific evidence of the effectiveness of cashews for the treatment of postpartum depression and anxiety.

“Fish oil is a better solution.”

Omega-3s have shown promise when it comes to ameliorating symptoms of depression.  Dr. Marlene Freeman of the MGH Center for Women’s Mental Health has said that, because of depletion of maternal fatty acids by the fetus during pregnancy and lactation, in addition to insufficient dietary consumption, Omega-3 used at therapeutic doses represents a potential benefit to both the mother and the infant.” What research hasn’t shown is that it’s a cure, so there’s certainly no harm in taking fish oil and if it works to stop your depression or anxiety, great. If it doesn’t, you need to talk with your doctor about other options.

“Have you even looked into natural remedies?”  “Why haven’t you been treated by a naturopath?”

We have: The Best Complementary and Alternative Medicine Treatments for Postpartum Depression.  Bottom line?  Some natural remedies do show some promise, but often for those with milder depression or anxiety.  There is nothing at all wrong with trying “natural remedies” to treat mental illness, but just don’t make the assumption that they are somehow safer. That’s not true. To learn more, read Are Natural Methods Safer and As Effective for Treating Postpartum Depression?

“Pills are the easy way out.”

Because taking the hard way out would be better? In case this person doesn’t know, the hard way out would be getting no treatment at all.  Here’s what can happen to women and children when mom gets no treatment at all for postpartum depression or anxiety: psychiatric illness when the baby becomes an adult, potential chronic depression or anxiety for the mother, attachment/bonding problems between mom and baby, and cognitive, behavioral and developmental problems for the baby.  So if you’re arguing that you are so against taking medication when indicated that it would be okay with you for a mom to accept lifelong health problems for both herself and her child, I say you are out of your mind.

“You’re only putting a bandaid on the problems.”

This assumes that the reasons a mother has anxiety or depression are only social, the kind of things medication wouldn’t help.  I don’t think you can make that kind of assumption. During a mental health crisis, it sometimes takes medication just to get someone well enough to be able to work on their problems via therapy, support groups or other methods.

“If you just quit going to school, you wouldn’t be so stressed.”

How the heck do you know? This assumes that it’s school stress and school stress ONLY that is causing the severe anxiety. Usually the situation is much more complex than that.

“Those drugs are going to hurt your baby.”

This blanket statement is not true. If the commenter was referring to breastfeeding, there are antidepressants that have been highly researched in terms of their transmission into breast milk and their effect on infants.  There are lots of great resources on this.  Check them out here: Which Psychiatric Medications Are Safe for Breastfeeding?

“All you need to do is eat better and exercise more.”

It is true that a healthy diet, good rest and exercise can have a positive impact on anyone’s health, including their mental health.  This doesn’t mean, though, that it can completely cure any mental illness.  Can you imagine telling someone with schizophrenia they just need to exercise more?

“Acupuncture cures everything.”

Acupuncture does not cure everything. I should know.  I tried a series of acupuncture from a highly trained specialist when I had severe nerve damage and it didn’t work because I had scar tissue.  So please don’t make blanket statements like that.

“A Feminist wouldn’t take pills.”

I’m not even sure this is worth a response. Still, I checked the FemPop blog, which represents the views of feminist psychologists, and didn’t see a single mention about feminists not taking medication for mental illness when indicated.  Maybe I missed it somewhere, but I doubt it.  If I had the time, I’d ask the head of the Society for the Psychology of Women, Stephanie A. Shields, PhD, who is a professor of psychology and women’s studies at Penn State where she coordinates the dual-title PhD in Women’s Studies and Psychology. I’m betting she’ll say that you don’t lose your feminist card if you take an antidepressant.

As always, talk to your doctor. Share your symptoms, how long you’ve had them, how severe they are, what your risk factors are.  Work with that person — a trained medical professional — to pick the path to recovery that’s best for you.

For more on this topic, see:

Postpartum Depression and the Stigma of Happy Pills

No Judgment Allowed: What Saves One Woman May Not Save Another

About Katherine Stone

is the creator of this blog, and the founder and executive director of Postpartum Progress. She has been named a WebMD Health Hero, one of the fiercest women in America by More magazine, and one of the 15 most influential patient advocates to follow. She is a survivor of postpartum OCD.

Tell Us What You Think

Comments

  1. AMEN and halleluiah. Much love.

  2. You are my hero 🙂 Well done!

  3. Rock on! Love you so much for this.

  4. Brilliant. Just boom. BOOM.

  5. The fact that you even needed to spell this stuff out is ridiculous.
    I’m currently doing ALL of the above (well, okay, except acupuncture) including medicaation and STILL having anxiety issues. I wish any combination of these things were a cure.

    As for pills being easy, I just had to laugh. The side effects were almost as bad as the anxiety itself. I’d hardly call them easy.

  6. Thanks for such a succinct & soundly-reasoned article!!

  7. As someone who has suffered from depression before and after baby I've always said this to the hatred of my pill popping, would you tell a person with diabetes to not take insulin? It's MEDICINE! Get over it…

  8. What Kimberly said. BOOM. BOOM. BOOM.

    Bombs of truth deconstructing and shattering stigma to smithereens.

    If I had cancer would chemo be the easy way out? Didn't think so, fools. Sorry. Had to say it.

  9. When I was having a hard time with this (read: giving myself a hard time about this), my husband reminded me of the following: He gets migraines regularly. Migraines are a problem in his brain. When he gets them, he takes medicine. Neither he, nor I, nor anyone else, thinks he's "weak" (or, "taking the easy way out") for taking medicine to fix a problem in his brain. I'll always love him a little bit more for telling me that.

  10. Again, you kick it and take names.

  11. Ah thank you for this! I'm as anti-meds as they come, seriously. About 3 months ago I found myself begging for some anxiety meds and eventually succumbed to a daily med with anxiety meds PRN. I recently blogged about letting go and knowing it was time: http://velveteenmama.wordpress.com/2012/01/20/per

    It was one of the hardest decisions I've made in a long time, but I know it was the right one.

    • Katherine Stone says:

      I think that's something a lot of people don't recognize, so thanks for pointing it out Danielle. I know a lot of people on psychiatric medication who are as holistic, natural, crunchy granola as they come. People who avoid any type of medication at all costs. They did everything they could to help themselves but their illnesses were serious enough that medication was required. Now they tell me they're just sad they waited so long to get help. So people shouldn't assume that just because someone takes medication that they don't also exercise or eat right or meditate or get acupuncture or go to church/temple/mosque or take omega-3s. There are plenty that do all of the above.

  12. The BOOM BOOM cracked me up! But I agree, BOOM!!

    I find it remarkable that people don't know what they are talking about have such strong opinions. They just make it harder. Please let them educate themselves and shut up.

    By the way I really loved the comment you made on that post <3

  13. Jodi Hitchcock says:

    I am a perinatal mental health support specialist with a Master's degree in social work. I have researched PPMD's and conducted training seminars on the topic. I am also a 4 time survivor of PPA and PPD. Despite all of these, I STILL feel a moment of shame when I admit that I "took the easy way out" with medication because of all the judgement I have faced over the years when "admitting" this fact. I have no regrets in how I was treated for my PPA and PPD. The decision was made with a lot of thought and professional guidance and in coordination with therapy and homeopathic treatments. I, along with my doctors, developed a treatment plan that was best for me and I (or ANY woman) do not owe anyone an apology for doing that! Thank you for writing this!

  14. I don't know why people would say any of those things to a woman who suffers from post-partum depression, but they do! I have heard almost all of them myself.

    You just have to listen to your inner voice that tells you something is wrong and fight through the voices of the others. I had people tell me that if I went to enough doctors one of them would find something wrong with me. But there was something wrong with me! It was post partum depression! I had had a history of depression to boot.

    I'm glad I listened to myself and not the others. I knew what was best for me and I'm so much happier for it.

  15. Thanks for the great article!

    First of all, I totally agree, what is wrong with taking the easy way out? Sometimes the easy way is the result of years of testing and improvement in order to provide the best possible outcome. You wouldn't tell someone with a broken leg to "just walk it off and let it heal naturally" but people seem to do that constantly with mental health. Sure, there are a number of other more natural approaches that can help (like the fish oils and exercise that you mention), but what I hear over and over from professionals is that in the end the medicine is often the most effective way to handle PPD and that any possible effects on the baby are far outweighed by the overall positive effects for the mother and child (and the rest of the family too!).

    Having helped my wife through this I was amazed by the number of uneducated people who gave us unsolicited advice like what you mentioned. In the end, all it did was make it harder for our family at an already difficult time. A lot of people seemed to have the approach of "eat healthy, take care of yourself and just pull yourself together". Sadly, sometimes life just isn't that simple.

    Thanks for all the work that you do to help people handle their PPD.

  16. I recently dropped school when I found out I am pregnant. It doesn't fix my anxiety, but it has helped alleviate the unneeded stress. I have a lot on my plate this year, and school was the only thing I could change to help my mental health. I do agree with what your saying though. It doesn't cure my stress and anxiety, it takes away some unneeded stress that caused me some major anxiety.

    • Katherine Stone says:

      Nicole,

      You did the right thing for you, which is perfect. In terms of the school issue, I just wanted to make sure people understood that for some, it might help them to drop out. For others, maybe school is the only bright spot for them and to leave would be taking away something positive in their lives. Each person is so different and we can't make assumptions about what may or may not be causing someone stress or leading to their depression or anxiety. I think it's awesome that you are doing what you can to take care of yourself.

      – K

  17. One possible consequence of not treating PPA & PPD not mentioned is harming yourself or your kids. I fantasized about driving my van into guardrails and brick walls. That's when I knew I needed medical intervention. I used an antidepressant for several years, but I weaned off it once I was able to and had 2 children afterwards &I didn't suffer from PPD again. So yes, they are a "Bandaid" in the sense that they cover your wounds while your body heals itself.

  18. I would have to bet that the people who made those comments and suggestions have never experienced the awful and debilitating effects of a life with anxiety and depression. I've been struggling for over 10 years with both. When you are so depressed that you can't get out of bed and you're so anxious that you can't leave the house, you will do ANYTHING to feel better. I have 3 children and want them to have a happy mom that enjoys life. At times I have had to take pills to be that happy mom that they deserve to have. It was never my first option,its usually my last! Reading my Bible, talking to God, deep breathing and meditation ,yoga, healthy diet and vitamins, talking to my husband, family, counselor, and friends are all things I do to get through one day at a time. Negative judgement from others (especially other moms) is the hardest thing for me and only makes matters worse. We as women and mothers need to stick together. Passing judgment is ignoroand not the example we want to be setting for our children. If you haven't been in someone else's shoes, you can kindly keep your mouth shut.

  19. Yes! This needs to be said over and over, until the naysayers get it through their heads. I'm a pharmacy student, mom, and breastfeeding peer counselor and I've come to realize just how much prejudice towards mental health disorders there is out there.

    Like any other chronic health condition yes there are things you can do in your lifestyle to help, but the medications are there for a reason. No one berates someone with high cholesterol when they can't control it with diet and exercise, but for some reason some people don't count depression/anxiety/etc. as "real" health problems.

    People who have not had to go through depression don't realize how hard it is to even admit that there is a problem, much less seek treatment for it. When you find it hard to do regular daily activities, how likely is it that you will initiate serious diet and exercise changes? For the people who need it, medication can help bring them back to a level place where they are able to then make other positive changes.

    Another thing that bugs me to no end is how some health care professionals seem to assume that a breastfeeding mother who has PPD would be better off bottle feeding. They don't realize that many medications are perfectly compatible with breastfeeding, and they mistakenly assume the mother will be under less pressure/get more sleep if she weans. I know many women don't breastfeed for one reason or another, but I have heard from many women that breastfeeding helped them to feel in control of something in their life when everything else was crazy. For the ignorance of health care professionals (people who should know better) to undermine that just frustrates me!

    Anyway, this has gotten a bit rant-y but I just wanted add my support to all those mamas struggling out there.

    • Katherine Stone says:

      Thanks for your comment Lindsay. It also bugs me when women who want to breastfeed are told they can't if they have PPD. It's not true!

  20. Wow, I am just speechless by some of the comments made! I know there is a stigma with taking medication for anxiety and depression, but I can't believe some people would think like the statements above.

    I was not crazy about the idea of taking an antidepressant and let myself live with my depression for over 3 years before I got help. Like Karen said, one possible consequence of not getting treatment would be harming yourself or your children – how is THAT a better outcome? When I found myself thinking that running away and leaving my children alone in the house or hurting myself was the best solution to how I felt, I realized I truely needed help. Having my doctor suggest being hospitalized was a huge wake up call to how severe things were. I agreed to medication, and even as a skeptic myself, I realized that it is what I needed. It's a shame that some people don't realize what a benefit it can be.

  21. Thanks for this — it really irks me when ppl overstep their boundaries. Just because your on the internet doesn't give you a free pass. You are talking about a person, not a machine. And I am so thankful that bloggers like you and Gina are tackling this topic.

  22. What we need to realize is that we are all INDIVIDUALS. Each person has different things that work for them. What works for one person may not work for another. That doesn't equal being a failure. I tried meds, that didn't work. I tried therapy, that didn't work. What helped me was volunteering for the Arizona Postpartum Wellness Coalition so I could help others and tell my story. Also I went back to school to fulfill a life-long dream. Does that mean that I tell other women with PMD to do what I did? Absolutely not. We need to respect each other's triumphs and failures. Great post and I hope she can find peace in the decisions she made for herself and her family.

  23. I was once told that I just "needed a hobby" Who has time for that with a newborn anyways.

  24. Um, I just love you. That is all.

  25. What a great post. I just wish you had placed more emphasis on the importance of CBT for people with anxiety. Unfortunately, any MD can prescribe anti depressants and anti anxiety drugs, but without help in changing the thought and behavior patterns that lead to anxiety, a more can find herself dependent on the medications for a lifetime. And many find that over time the need different and more medications to feel the same benefits. Therapy is a necessary treatment for anxiety and when combined with medications can so vastly improve a woman's life and eventually may eliminate the need for medications. I am on year 5 without my meds after taking them for over a decade. It was a long road, but I made it and I know that others can, too. But for many years the mess were prescribed by an MD, not a therapist and I didn't stand a chance of surviving without them. It was only after a pregnancy loss that I started a multi year relationship with a wonderful therapist who saw me through, helped me see what aspects of my life contributed to my anxiety and helped me to re wire my thought patterns so I could eventually live life without my meds.

    • Katherine Stone says:

      I'm a huge fan of therapy, and for people who've had trauma, or perhaps other things like difficult relationships, negative thought patterns, bad coping skills, etc., I would highly recommend it. I did therapy for a long time and it made such a big impact on my life.

  26. LOVE your post. I suffered PPD big time with both my boys….took pills, breastfed for over a year and wish I had read this a long time ago!

  27. Because I've been taking medication for so long – I have heard every single one of these and more. It's unfortunate but I had to quit fighting. When someone told me that my bipolar disorder could be treated by exercising I just nodded my head and said, "okay, I'll try that." I'm just so tired of fighting the stigmas and preconceived notions of people who don't and will NEVER full understand what I go through on a daily basis.

    You're right – getting no treatment is the hard way out. I've decided on that a couple times in my life. Because of that I almost died. TWICE.

    I'm so glad to have you as an advocate. You really really just GET it, Katherine. And it feels good to someone like me that someone understands.

  28. You are much more eloquent than I would be. People suck. Plain and simple. We can't judge others' decisions. Period.

  29. Globetrotter Parent says:

    PPD is often purely medical. I hope she got her thyroid checked. Sometimes it's hypothyroidism that's the real issue.

    • Stats? My doctor checked for everything under the sun to rule out physiological contributors for my depression/anxiety. Any good care provider would/should do the same, so I'm curious where this assumption comes from that it's 'often' medical.

    • Katherine Stone says:

      No, it isn't purely medical. Clearly you do not understand the risk factors of postpartum depression. Nonetheless, it is true that hypothyroidism is sometimes the cause, though experts have told me that only a small percentage of PPD symptoms are do to problems with thyroid function.
      – K

  30. All I feel I need to say is THANK YOU. You are incredibly inspiring. THANK YOU.

  31. Now talk about the dirty looks and comments if you don't breastfeed because of mess.

    • Amen! I had to switch to formula with my oldest when I had to go on Lexapro during my first hospitalization with PPD. People definitely gave me dirty looks and said all sorts of ignorant crap over the fact that I was bottlefeeding instead of breastfeeding. It's a big part of why I no longer support the idea that "Breast is always best". What is always best is for the mother to be in good health, and that includes her mental health. If that means she needs to formula feed instead of breastfeeding, fine. Whether that's due to breastfeeding being too stressful for her or medication or whatever reason, nobody else has the right to judge, and way too many people don't even realize the effect that breastfeeding can have on a woman's mental health.

  32. Katherine,

    Thanks so much for getting this discussion going! It is so unfortunate that women are afraid to make a move to get well because of the opinions of others. So many barriers to getting well are created by those closest to them. A mom told me today that her sister doesn't understand and keeps asking her why she needs "that medicine", this just creates more guilt for this mom causing her to question if she IS doing the right thing.

  33. I'm still trying to figure out what is so easy about "the easy way out"! Even with the SSRI, it was a long uphill battle to crawl my way out of PPD/PPA. It got me functioning, but it was definitely not an instant cure.

  34. Yuz (@notjustaboutwe says:

    *standing up & applauding*

    Thank you for fighting the fight & being a voice to so many not strong enough or loud enough to respond in the manner that you did. And by the way, a dishwasher is an easy way out cos who the hell likes washing dishes by hand anyway?

  35. christine briggs says:

    Thank you for the advice you have given above, to all those people who wasted their time on their comment may i suggest that they might like to think about what they write and do their own little bit of research before posting??

    Please check the facts first if not save your comments for another place.!!

    i am a mother who has four kids with depression and a daughter with post natal depression i am well aware of all the facts and this is very informative to all who suffer thanks.

  36. Knowing that those who have no idea what post natal illness feels like actually say these stupid things makes my blood boil. Just like when Tom Cruise criticized Brooke Shields. Taking medication for a mental illness is better than committing suicide and leaving your child without a mother because some idiot gave you the third degree about medication. To all those big mouth would be know-it-alls out there, don't comment on something you know nothing about.

  37. I took loads of Omega-3's before, during, and after my daughter's birth. I still take them. They did not prevent or treat my PPD or postpartum anxiety. So…they do not work for everyone. Nothing works for everyone. The one thing that helps everyone involved is seeking treatment and not giving up until you can look yourself in the eye and say you feel better. That's it.

  38. I liked this article. Taking medicine is an individual's choice. In my case, I have been on medicine and I have come so far compared to last year–I was horrible. My doctor said PPD/PPA is definitely hormonal. And my gynecologist told me that after my baby girl was delivered, my hormones plummeted. Of course stressful factors can lead to it etc. I never was informed about PPD/PPA and it hit me out of the blue. I've read tons of PPD books. Down Came the Rain by Brooke Shields, Postpartum Depression for Dummies, and This Isn't What I Expected by Karen Kleinman. I continue to take my medicine and I'm not ashamed at all. I think women should know that it's OK to take medicine and it doesn't mean you're weak. If you had an injury, you may take medicine. People need to be more compassionate. Unfortunately when it comes to mental illnesses after birth, a lot of people don't get it especially if they haven't suffered from such a horrible illness. Women shouldn't be afraid to get help, and do what they feel is right for them in their situation with or without meds!

  39. Awsome! I hope other moms reading your article find reassurance and feel empowered. Being head under water due to PPMD makes for so much anxiety and self doubt. A mist such a crisis, focusing on making treatment decisions is already hard enough. I can remember being so debilitated that I couldn't eat, sleep or focus enough to carry on a conversation. Finding the right support and medications saved my life and that of my children. Once properly medicated I could utilize other activites that furthered my recovery but for me medication was the key. Life with PPMD is hard enough. We certainly don't need anyone throwing stones at us when we are most fragile. This article is like a sheild from those stones. Thank You

  40. It makes me sad that people are so judgemental, but I am grateful for people like you that take the time to use facts and logic reject their biases. I hope that Gina and others like her do not stop sharing their experiences. They are helpful and validating to people like myself who struggle with PPMD, or even anyone with mental health issues.

  41. That's such BS and makes my blood boil. I went on antidepressants because I was fantasizing about leaving my husband and baby and dropping off the face of the earth. And also imaging horrible things happening to my child.

    I knew there might be a chance I could kick this without meds, but I wanted them immediately to get on top of all this. Why in the hell would I want to unnecessarily suffer or let my family suffer because I wanted to try raw cashews?

    No one would tell someone with liver failure to just suck it up and not do meds because that's too easy. What difference does it make if you take meds for an organ that's not functioning right but not your own brain?

  42. Heather Bogolyubova says:

    I loved this. I had my first child a year ago and was instantly plunged into terrible anxiety. Wrote about it on my blog- ttp://630andaglassofwine.bangordailynews.com/2011/11/30/married-life/what-i-never-wanted-to-say/

    Love to share it and my other rantings with you.

    Heather

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