In response to the news that screening for perinatal depression is now recommended by the US Preventive Services Task Force, New York Times bestselling author Marianne Williamson took to Facebook to tell her followers that the recommendation is simply a ploy to sell more drugs. She wrote,
“Hormonal changes during and after pregnancy are NORMAL. Mood changes are NORMAL. Meditation helps. Prayer helps. Nutritional support helps. Love helps.” In comments with followers, she asserts: “The [postpartum depression] disease is not inside the woman; the disease is inside a system so based on greed that it does not honor parents’ need to remain with their children long enough after birth.”
The truth is that one in seven women will develop a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder like postpartum depression. Identifying and treating these women is crucial to public health because, according to the National Center on Children and Poverty and voluminous research, untreated postpartum depression and anxiety is, “ … a stronger risk factor for child behavior problems than smoking, binge drinking and emotional or physical domestic abuse.” Untreated PPD can lead to cognitive development problems, poor performance in school, increased aggression and future psychiatric illness and substance abuse. And yet, less than 35% of moms with these illnesses ever receive treatment.
Postpartum depression is real. Moderate to severe postpartum depression requires treatment. And while not all mothers will need medication to recover, they will need help. It may come in the form of psychotherapy, a visiting nurse, group therapy, hospitalization, or peer support, but without help moms will not fully recover. The new guidelines for screening might just mean that more women who need help will be identified and receive the support they deserve. This is why maternal child health advocates must respond when someone who has sold 3 million books and has a social media following in the hundreds of thousands spreads stigmatizing and uninformed information about maternal mental health.
Please join Avital Norman Nathman, editor of The Good Mother Myth, and Katherine Stone, founder of Postpartum Progress in a virtual pushback to these stigmatizing words. Use your voice — and perhaps even your own story — to explain why comments like Ms. Williamson’s are not only hurtful, but harmful as well. Use the hashtag #MeditateOnThis to speak out tonight (6pm Eastern, 3pm Western). @TheMamafesto, @postpartumprog