Few life events are as significant and joyful as the birth of a baby. For nine months a mother-to-be eagerly anticipates the bliss of holding her baby for the first time and then bringing the precious bundle home to the family nest. But tragically, for some women, the reality is far from bliss. What should be one of the happiest times of her life turns out to be the darkest of times.
For decades, health care professionals and advocate groups alike have fought to remove the stigma attached to mental health issues. Yet within this group of people there is some in-fighting going on. Depending on the mental illness involved, the amount of lobbying may or may not be punctuated with decisive vigor. Some organizations are only interested in advocating mental disorders that are biologically based and have far less interest in others.
Postpartum depression has historically received the short end of the stick.
A picture of postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression is a mental disorder that affects thousands of mothers every year. It occurs soon after the birth of the child – sometimes within a couple of days – and leaves the mother with overwhelming feelings of depression and despair. Many times they can’t even perform basic childcare, and they feel no joy and no hope of things getting better.
Despite these very real effects of a very real disorder, postpartum depression is mired in controversy. When the Hollywood actress Brooke Shields wrote a book detailing her experience of postpartum depression and her decision to take antidepressants, fellow actor Tom Cruise stated a healthy diet and exercise would get her over the hump in a very public attack. For mothers who have horrifying thoughts of harming their child in the throes of depression, hearing that different food choices and a brisk walk will take care of things may seem to border on emotional abuse. Yet the mother is the one that is made to feel as if she doesn’t quite measure up, that there must be something wrong with her.
As an example of how tragically serious the consequences of postpartum depression really are, one only has to look at the Andrea Yates case. She murdered her five children as a result of the overwhelming invasiveness of her depression and psychosis. Still, some people scoff at the idea that postpartum depression is a disorder that needs to be relegated to the top of list when it comes to making changes in diagnosis and treatment methods. The Mothers Act
Among the many controversial laws ever passed by Congress, The Mothers Act has certainly had its place in the sun. This law is a piece of legislation that calls for mandatory screening of all pregnant women for mental health issues.
Proponents say it’s a voice of awareness, educating the public and de-stigmatizing postpartum depression. Opponents say the real beneficiaries will not be mothers but the drug companies behind the legislation. Women in their childbearing years are a huge market, a fact not gone unnoticed by Big Pharma. And as most of us know by now, anytime you start legislating health care decisions, you can bet someone is waiting in the wings to profit from it.
Postpartum depression is indeed a serious mental disorder that deserves awareness and attention. No informed person would deny that. However, no woman should be cajoled into taking a dangerous prescription medication without being informed of all the options available to her should she be suffering with depression. In some cases proper family and emotional support coupled with therapy will get them on the road to recovery. And if drugs are deemed appropriate they should never be employed as a permanent “fix.”
Unless, of course, a permanently “altered mind” is the fix one is looking for. It’s probably safe to say that’s not the vision of the future most moms dream of after giving birth to a child.