A few of my clients are new moms seeing me for postpartum depression, or another post-baby-related mental illnesses. I wish I saw more moms in this situation, though, because I know how common baby blues are. I recently read an article (included below in the resources section) about how more than half (!) of new moms are not getting the mental health support they need. This post is a call to action; my first hope is to inform my readers on the issue, and then urge them to get the mental health care they need–whether for themselves or for a loved one.
Some say that the solution can begin with the postpartum healthcare professionals–having them step up their game when it comes to screening for perinatal and postpartum mood disorders. Maven found that 54% of the mothers were never questioned about their mental health during pre- or postnatal care. The other half were asked, but never even mentioned feeling “off.” Of the small percentage of women who were asked about their mental health and who did raise concerns to their OB-GYN, 27% were given no concrete next steps to get treatment. There is clearly a gap in postpartum care!
In their defense, OB-GYNs are not trained in mental health, just as I am not trained in obstetric care. They are trained to get a woman through a healthy pregnancy to delivering a healthy child. But it seems our system is fragmented insomuch that OB-GYNs often do not know who to refer their patients to if the patients are having issues; there are many questions at play with insurance, in-network providers, specialty mental health providers, etc. I imagine it would be difficult for the OB-GYNs to detect the need for additional help in a brief, one-time postpartum checkup!
That is why the responsibility lies with all of us–with you and me, friends, family, partners, siblings, acquaintances and neighbors alike. We need to be aware of what is normal and what is not so we can encourage the mothers around us who may unknowingly need help to get medical attention they deserve. As a baseline, it is normal to have the baby blues for about two weeks after a baby is born. It is not normal, however, to be feeling sad and hopeless weeks later. Parental depression or anxiety can look like anger. It can look like fatigue. It can look like sadness. Here are some additional signs to watch out for:
- Crying spells
- Feeling constantly down on oneself, being unhappy about being a parent
- Losing interest in things once enjoyed
- Thoughts about self-harm or suicidal ideations.
Depression looks different for different moms—which is why we need to talk about this range of experiences if we stand any chance of giving mothers the help they need. Giving mothers the resources and support to cope with depression is not just a maternal health issue, but one that affects every member of the family. Failure to detect mental health conditions during and after pregnancy has significant consequences: According to a 2017 study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, suicide is on par with bleeding and high blood pressure as a leading cause of death during pregnancy and during the first year postpartum. Even for those without suicidal ideations, maternal depression has been shown to alter the experiences of mothers and their babies for years to come!
Being aware of the warning signs and then encouraging mothers to seek the mental health care they need is the first step. The second step is ensuring that it actually happens. Although 33% of the moms surveyed who initiated conversations about their mental health with their doctors were referred to a therapist, 43% of them never followed through. Cost and time are barriers to many busy new moms considering traditional therapy, in addition to the obvious obstacle of getting out of the house with a newborn, and other children in tow.
Not only do I encourage anyone reading this to get the help they need, but we need women to talk more about postpartum mental health to raise awareness and promote better access to care. Talk about it–whether that is with your primary physician, obstetrician, mother, friend, or partner –let others know what you are feeling! If you are unable to physically go to a therapist, go online and seek out therapists who offer telehealth services so that you can receive therapeutic care in the comfort of your home.
For all mothers—know there is no guilt in feeling off or distressed. If you are struggling to feel joy during pregnancy or the postpartum period, speak up. You are not alone in this, nor are you a statistic. You are a strong mama who deserves to be heard and to get the help you need. Let’s support each other by knowing the warning signs and talking about maternal mental health. If you have any of the early warning signs mentioned above, please seek help. The sooner you seek treatment, the sooner you will feel like yourself again and will be able to be the mother you aspire to be. Please contact me today with questions you may have or schedule a session by clicking here.
Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.
- Cluff Counseling: “Creating Conversation Around Your Mental Illness”
- Cluff Counseling: “Depression is Not a Life Sentence”
- Cluff Counseling: “How To Rise and Shine”
- Cluff Counseling: “Taking the Stigma Out of Mental Illness”
- Mental Health: “Depression Hotline”
- Motherly: “More than half of new moms aren’t getting the mental health support they need”
- Motherly: “Prenatal depression is the most under-diagnosed pregnancy complication in the U.S.”
- Motherly: “The unexpected depression symptom every new parent should be aware of”
- Motherly: “Why is motherhood portrayed as being either magical or depressing in media?”
- WebMD: “8 Warning Signs of Postpartum Depression”
- Wiley Online Library: “Parental Depression, Overreactive Parenting, and Early Childhood Externalizing Problems: Moderation by Social Support”