Imagine falling suddenly into a deep, severe depression, complete with feelings of panic and trauma-induced stress.
Imagine your sudden, unexplained problems might stigmatize you as a bad parent, causing more anxiety and fear.
Imagine asking doctor for help only to be told “you’re overreacting, you’re imagining it.”
Some might be familiar with the term “postpartum depression,” but many don’t realize mood disorders related to childbirth go beyond that, to include anxiety and panic disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, psychosis and post-traumatic stress.
A 2013 study estimated 20 percent of women report symptoms of maternal mood disorders. Amy-Rose White, founder and executive director of the Utah Maternal Mental Health Collaborative, suspects that number might be even higher in the Beehive state, which also holds the highest birthrate in the nation.
Another study found that many pediatricians don’t screen mothers for postpartum depression, either. Many mothers don't seek help for fear of being labeled a bad mother.
This pain and suffering is real, it’s under-treated and it’s unnoticed by too many doctors, communities and lawmakers.
Even when postpartum mental illness is acknowledged, it can be incredibly difficult to treat.
Standard-Examiner journalist Sarah Welliver recently wrote about Mother’s Nest, a newly-formed local nonprofit aimed at helping these women in crisis and raising awareness for PPD. It led to an outpouring from Utah women, eager to share their experiences with PPD and offer support. One reader left a link for a GoFundMe for a Payson mother, who died by suicide earlier this month. The page is clear about her trials:
“Mindy suffered from an acute case of post partum psychosis that began with the birth of her 5th baby,” the page administrator wrote. “...Mindy did everything she could to heal. All that could be done was done to support her.”
Mindy’s sister added, “Mindy loved her family as much as any wife and mother has ever loved. She loves her precious children and she was an amazing mother and wife. All I know is that postpartum psychosis is very real.”
She was a good mother. She was suffering tremendously.
So what can we learn from her story?
First, that our legislators need to take another look at extending postpartum help for the nearly 10,000 Utah mothers on Medicaid in an average year. Right now, they only get 60 days of help. For women like Mindy, who suffered for years, that isn’t enough.
Rep. Edward Redd, R-Logan, proposed a Medicaid waiver in 2017 to provide coverage up to a year after birth, but the bill never even came up for a discussion much less a vote.
Next, we can all lend support by breaking down stigmas about mental illness and motherhood. Meradith Frasier, co-founder of Mother’s Nest, says understanding how pervasive the issue is might help break the taboo.
“I became my own advocate. It was really difficult at times, but realizing it isn’t just you, that this is awful but it’s normal ... it’s huge,” she told the Standard.
For those interested in learning more or in need resources, visit:
- Utah Maternal Mental Health Collaborative
- Postpartum Support International, 800-944-4773
- National Alliance on Mental Illness Utah, 801-323-9900
- Intermountain McKay-Dee Hospital Behavioral Health, 801-387-5600