Only a minority of women get professional treatment for postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety/OCD and other perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. One study puts the number at just 15%. This means that hundreds of thousands of women every single year are white knuckling it, hoping that their misery will eventually slink away on its own.
Why do they do this? Because no one has ever told them what the consequences are of ignoring PPD, or even that there are consequences. And also, because there’s still this belief that mothers should sacrifice themselves for their children. They shouldn’t need any help, and should devote their every waking second to their babies without even a thought for themselves. Get help? Who needs help?!
The two primary objectives of Postpartum Progress the nonprofit are to increase the number of women who recognize they have a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder and to increase the number of women who get professional help for those illnesses. It’s crucial to get help. There are two major reasons why.
The first, and we’ve talked about this since 2010 but it was reinforced in the news this week, is because untreated PPD can morph into chronic depression. A study just published in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry finds that about 50% of women with PPD are still depressed after the first year, and 30% still suffer from depression even three years later. The Belgian researchers believe reasons for this include:
- Some of the moms with PPD likely already had a pre-existing condition of depression prior to having a baby.
- Some may still contend with the risk factors that contributed to their PPD in the first place, such as a poor quality relationship with their partner.
I would argue another big reason, perhaps even the most important reason, is that some of them were diagnosed but never treated. They’ve never gotten any help, so the symptoms persist. (Or, they were ineffectively treated or quit their treatment plan too early.) The researchers had no way to account for this in their study. As reported by Science Codex, “Dr. Vliegen and colleagues note some important gaps in the research—including a lack of data on how treatment for postpartum depression affects long-term outcomes.” We know treatment helps. Just ask the Warrior Moms who say it saved their lives. Or the ones who held off getting treatment and wish they hadn’t.
The second reason it’s crucial to get professional treatment for postpartum depression is that children whose mothers have either untreated depression during pregnancy or untreated PPD or anxiety are more likely to be negatively impacted over the long term. This is a fact. It’s painful to talk about — believe me, I know — given that those of us who have had these illnesses already suffer tremendous guilt and worry over our children.
As explained by the nonprofit organization Zero to Three, “Older children of mothers depressed during infancy show poor self-control, aggression, poor peer relationships, and difficulty in school.” They have higher rates of substance abuse and psychiatric illness themselves. At younger ages they have a higher risk of cognitive and behavioral problems. There are numerous studies that bear all of this out. I would submit that the kids who have more problems are the kids whose mothers didn’t get or have any help. The longer the mother suffers and the longer her symptoms go on, especially if they go on indefinitely, the higher the likelihood her child or children will be negatively impacted.
Does this mean if you never got help that you’ve somehow ruined your child for life? No. It just means the sooner you get help, the better for both you and your baby.
Asking for help is hard. Admitting you’re not well is hard. Making yourself go to that therapy appointment, or attend that support group, or take that medication, is hard. There’s no question about it. There are so many things that make it easy to just ignore what you’re going through. To try and convince yourself you can do this on your own.
You have to let that go. You have to do what you need to do and make that call. If you need treatment for postpartum depression or anxiety, go get it. You have options. There is something that will work for you.
Postpartum Progress is behind you all the way.
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