So I’m sitting in my office, minding my own business (not really) and I see this tweet:
PostPartum depression non-existent in other cultures. Here’s why!
Oh goodness. There goes Katherine’s mood today.
Postpartum depression is NOT non-existent in other cultures. Sorry. Wrong. And here’s why tweets or headlines like this make me so angry: As @DoNotFaint tweeted on Twitter after seeing it, it’s shaming to state things like that. It makes women who have postpartum depression feel even worse, as though we’re the only spoiled losers on the planet who have figured out how to make new motherhood miserable.
The headline linked to a story on Breastfeeding.com entitled “How Other Cultures Prevent Postpartum Depression” by Kathleen Kendall-Tackett. At first, it appears her story at least from her headline doesn’t say PPD is non-existent elsewhere. Whew. But then I read this: “ In their classic paper, Stern and Kruckman (1983) present an anthropological critique of the literature. They found that in the cultures they studied, postpartum disorders, including the ‘baby blues,’ were virtually non-existent. In contrast, 50% to 85% of new mothers in industrialized nations experience the ‘baby blues,’ and 10% to 20% experience postpartum depression. ”
She goes on to present information on the types of cultures that treat their new mothers with care, using such rituals as bathing, massage and seclusion or confinement.
I’m not aware of data that shows these rituals prevent postpartum depression. The definition of prevent means to keep something from happening. A study published in the August 2009 issue of the Journal of Affective Disorders, for instance, examined 16 different studies and concluded that there is little consistent evidence that the Chinese postpartum custom of confinement or “doing the month” reduces postpartum depression among Chinese mothers.
Every time someone says postpartum depression, or postnatal depression, is non-existent elsewhere, it rankles. I’m not saying those who say are meaning to shame or hurt sufferers, but that it does have that effect. I decided to do a quick, cursory online review today about this “non-existence”, and found the following data on mothers suffering from postpartum depression in countries other than the US, Canada, UK and Australia:
- Prevalence of postpartum depression in a Morroccan sample - between 5 and 11%
- Prevalence and social correlates of postnatal depression in a low income country (Pakistan) - potentially more than 30%
- Prevalence of postpartum depression in Saudi Arabia – 22% in this 2009 study
- Prevalence of postpartum depression in India – 23% in Goa and 16% in rural south India
- Prevalence of postpartum depression in Austria – 21.3% according to a 1997 study
- Prevalence of postpartum anxiety and depressive disorders in Germany – 6% with PPD and 11% with postpartum anxiety in this 2008 study
- Prevalence of postpartum depression in Chile – up to 50% in lower-income women says this 2007 study
- Prevalence of postpartum depression in Brazil – 20% according to this study of women in Southern Brazil from 2008
- Prevalence of postpartum depression in Singapore – 10% according to this study from 2011
- Prevalence of postpartum depression in Nigeria – 27% in one hospital in 2006
- Prevalence of postpartum depression in Turkey – in this study in Eastern Turkey in 2002 it was 22%
- Prevalence of postpartum depression in Ethiopia – 16-19%
- Prevalence of postpartum depression in Finland – 22% in this 2003 story
- Prevalence of postpartum depression in Sudan – 10-15% per this study published in 2011
- Prevalence of postpartum depression in Mongolia – 9% says this study from 2008
- Prevalence of postpartum depression in France – 11%, where they have 16 weeks paid leave
- Prevalence of postpartum depression in China – one study published in 2007 says it is 15% and so did this study from last month (14.2%)
I could keep going. Do I need to keep going?
As stated in this report by the World Health Organization, “About 10-15% of women in industrialized countries, and between 20-40 % of women in developing countries experience depression during pregnancy or after childbirth. Perinatal depression is one of the most prevalent and severe complications of pregnancy and childbirth.”
Now, let me say I fully agree with Tackett’s premise that we treat new mothers in the US like crap. Fully!!!!! As in 100,000%!!!! It’s terrible how little we do to support them and I love how some other cultures revere and protect the new mother. I’m not saying such practices as those listed in the article couldn’t or wouldn’t help.
What I am saying is that I completely disagree with the assertion that postpartum depression doesn’t exist elsewhere. It does. We don’t need to shame mothers with PPD in order to prove that we should do better in this country in terms of how we treat new moms.