Last year, Allison Goldstein and her husband were living with their new bundle of joy, Ainslee Parker. Having given birth just months before, it didn’t seem like life could be better for the happy couple.
Then tragedy struck. On June 28, 2016, Allison Goldstein lost her battle to postpartum depression. After checking in her daughter at a daycare, Allison drove to a dirt road and took her own life. The members of her family all say the same thing. She was a happy woman, an ecstatic mother and didn’t present any outward signs or red flags that showed she was struggling. They all were blindsided by her death and hope to use it to bring awareness to a topic not often talked about openly.
Pregnancy and childbirth come with a variety of physical changes and intense emotions. Approximately 80% of new mothers experience what is known as the “baby blues” after childbirth. This is a period of time, lasting up to two weeks, where new mothers may experience mood swings, crying spells, anxiety and difficulty sleeping. This is very common and not something that new mothers need to worry about. However, one in seven new mothers may be suffering from a more serious problem: postpartum depression (PPD).
Postpartum depression is more severe than the “baby blues” and longer lasting. Symptoms can range from mild to severe. The symptoms include:
- Depressed mood or severe mood swings
- Excessive crying
- Difficulty bonding with the baby
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Loss of appetite or eating much more than usual
- Insomnia or sleeping too much
- Overwhelming fatigue
- Reduced interest and pleasure in activities that are usually enjoyable
- Intense irritability and anger
- Fear of not being a good mother
- Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt or inadequacy
- Disinterest in the baby
- Diminished ability to think clearly, concentrate or make decisions
- Severe anxiety and panic attacks
- Thoughts of harming oneself or the baby
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
If left untreated, these symptoms will persist and can lead to more serious symptoms or tragedy. One reason many mothers refuse to get help is because they feel embarrassed or ashamed of their feelings. Often they blame themselves, thinking they shouldn’t be struggling with this. Some may not recognize or acknowledge that they are struggling, or may not be aware of what the symptoms are or how common it is. Others may not seek out help because they do not know where to turn for guidance.
If you experience any symptoms, even just one, talk with your doctor, especially if they persist for longer than a few weeks, get worse or interfere with daily tasks and caring for your baby. If you experience thoughts of harming yourself or your baby get help immediately through friends, family, your doctor, a mental health care provider or even call 911.
There are certain risk factors that can increase your chance of experiencing PPD. These include:
- Being under the age of 20
- Alcohol, drug, or tobacco abuse
- Unplanned pregnancy
- Having a history of depression, bipolar disorder or anxiety disorders
- Having a family member that struggles with mental health
- High levels of stress; these include financial stress or relational stress
- Being single while pregnant
- Poor familial support.
The majority of postpartum women with depression are not identified, despite the fact that they are at a higher risk for these mental disorders. One of the biggest reasons these women go undiagnosed is because there is no universal screening method that is relied on. Doctors aren’t even required to screen postpartum women for mental illness. This leads to the 20% of postpartum deaths being linked to suicide.
There are many steps that could be taken to prevent such a high percentage of women losing the battle to postpartum depression. Identification of PPD through universal screening should be recommended and mandated countrywide. Women should be informed about PPD during prenatal check-ups. Birthing classes could educate both men and women on what the signs and symptoms of PPD and other maternal mental health illnesses look like. When women go in for their baby check-ups doctors could have some basic training to also check in with the mother.
Deaths associated with PPD are completely preventable. Stories like Allison Goldstein should never happen. Any death from PPD should be seen as a systemic issue that needs to be rectified immediately.
(February 15, 2017). Depression Among Women. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/depression/index.htm
Ashley, D. (May 31, 2017). Help is available for postpartum depression. Jackson Hole News & Guide. Retrieved from http://www.jhnewsandguide.com/valley/columnists/help-is-available-for-postpartum-depression/article_0f263e5b-02b9-5930-b4c3-2dfd752efcb8.html
Castillo, M. (March 14, 2013). 1 in 7 new moms may suffer from postpartum depression. CBS News. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/1-in-7-new-moms-may-suffer-from-postpartum-depression/
Mercola, J. (June 1, 2017). When Motherhood Leads to Depression. Mercola. Retrieved from http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2017/06/01/motherhood-depression.aspx