Movement reaches out to mothers suffering postpartum depression

Friday , May 22, 2015 - 1:30 PM

By JAMIE LAMPROS
Standard-Examiner correspondent

The prevalence and impact of maternal mood and anxiety disorders is a public health crisis.

Those were the words spoken by Amy-Rose White, a licensed clinical social worker and executive director and founder of the Utah Maternal Mental Health Collaborative.

“Every woman deserves to be given information about risk, prevention, and treatment resources at every stage of pregnancy and throughout their child’s first year,” White said. “Also, postpartum depression is a misnomer. It’s really an agitated depression more often experienced as anxiety, irritability, and insomnia. Most moms with severe depression or anxiety are still able take good care of their children, which is why we call them hidden illnesses. If a mom looks good, often no one knows or asks.”

White was speaking during the premiere screening of a new documentary about pregnancy, postpartum depression and anxiety recently at the Salt Lake County Library. The 72-minute documentary, entitled Dark Side of the Full Moon, tells the dramatic true stories of two mothers who experienced roadblocks to health care and why so many women fall through the cracks.

Women in the documentary spoke about needing help right away, but having to wait more than six weeks to see an expert. Others said they would have wanted to be screened for PPD so they could know what to expect and be better prepared to cope.

“High blood pressure gets treated, diabetes gets treated, but treating mental health is optional,” one woman said in the film. “This is not a women’s issue. This affects everyone.”

Symptoms of PPD include anger, irritability, rage, isolation, depression, insomnia, panic, constant worry, tearfulness, fear, self-blame, a detachment from the baby and an overwhelming feeling. Symptoms can start during pregnancy and last up to a year after delivery, White said.

White said if your health care provider tells you you’ve got the blues and those blues don’t go away in six weeks or gets worse, reach out to someone else who will help you.

A UDOH survey of new moms found that one in seven, or 13.8 percent, reported experiencing postpartum depression. The condition can impact a mother’s ability to bond with her baby, strain family relationships, lead to long-term mental health issues when untreated, and even affect the newborn’s cognitive development. Suicide remains the second leading cause of death in the first year postpartum. Nationally, an estimated 1.3 million mothers are affected by PPD each year. Approximately one in 1,000 develop postpartum psychosis.

Alicia Glascock, 27, of South Ogden, suffered from postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder after suffering a uterine inversion during the birth of her daughter nearly three years ago.

“I lost four liters of blood and was rushed to the operating room,” she said. “I remember them saying my blood pressure was 49/20 or something ridiculous like that. After I went home, I started to have panic attacks and flashbacks.”

Glascock said she was given a paper about PPD while in the hospital, but nothing fit her symptoms.

“I wasn’t sad. I didn’t want to harm my baby. Nothing really fit. I just thought I was going crazy,” she said.

Glascock started nursing school when her baby was four weeks old. When her class began discussing obstetrics and gynecology, she said she had to leave class because she began having flashbacks.

“I couldn’t deal with it,” she said. “My teacher talked to me and told me what I had and told me it was OK and things were going to get better. She said I needed to give it time, but I also needed to talk with someone.”

Glascock went back to her doctor who referred her to therapy. She said emotionally, she is still on the journey to recovery.

“The hardest thing is knowing there’s something not right but not knowing where to go or who to turn to,” she said. “I talked to nurses who had never heard of my disorder and my doctor had only seen it three times during his entire practice. I looked online for a lot of stuff. Postpartum.org was the first place that mentioned postpartum PTSD.’

“This is a story that needs to be told,” said Dr. Marc Babitz, director of the Utah Department of Health’s division of family health and preparedness. “PPD is among the most common complications of childbirth and can affect mothers to the point that they cannot care for their newborns or even themselves.”

The documentary is sponsored by Intermountain Medical Center, The Healing Group, BetterBirth LLC, BirthCare HealthCare, and the Community School of Midwifery.

“We need to see some changes,” White said. “Here we are, the highest child birth state in the nation and no one is talking about this in a systematic way.”

White said she founded Utah MMHC after experiencing PPD herself several years ago. She said she wanted other women to realize they were not alone in their suffering and there is help out there.

“You’re not alone and you’re not a bad mom if you have PPD,” she said. “So many women don’t understand what they’re feeling or why they’re having these thoughts and feelings and many of them are terrified to tell anyone, but it’s a chemical reaction in the brain that can be treated.”

“Our website, utahmmhc.com, has a list of resources available as well as a screening test that will help determine if you may have ppd or be at risk,” White said. “Every provider should be screening their patient’s for this. There’s really no excuse.”

In addition, White said many women are afraid to take medication because they are afraid of harming their baby, but the benefits have been shown to outweigh the risks.

“We have absolute volumes of literature showing very clearly that long term negative outcomes on the fetus and pregnancy and beyond, both long and short term are worse when the mother is not treated,” White said. “Exposing the fetus to the cortisol related to depression and anxiety can have a neurological impact on the child.”

Glascock is pregnant with her second child, due in November. She said she has discussed the issue in depth with her health care provider and a preparedness plan has been put into place.

“I’m nervous and because they don’t really know why this happened to me, they can’t say it won’t happen again,” she said. “But this time I feel like I’m more prepared. Not only is my midwife helping me, but I have a doula coming in for emotional support. The more we are educated about this, the more we can help ourselves.”

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