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Shedding Light on Postpartum Mental Health

On June 14th, two Climb Out of the Darkness™ events will take place in Delaware, part of a worldwide effort to raise awareness of maternal mental illnesses such as postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety & OCD, postpartum PTSD, and more. Because of my own stage of life, the number of individuals and couples I work with in their child-bearing years and the impact of postpartum mental health on all family members, I am revisiting this subject again.

If you’ve been pregnant, given birth or been close to a woman who has, you know the indisputable hormonal shifts that occur and the impact on mood, anxiety levels, decision-making, memory, attention, and more. Any woman in the first year postpartum can develop a postpartum mood or anxiety disorder and approximately 15% or 1 in 7 postpartum women are actually diagnosed. However, the numbers are presumably much higher if we factor in the number of women who do not acknowledge their symptoms, seek help and therefore, are not diagnosed. Common symptoms of postpartum mental health disorders include:

  • Feeling very sad, irritable, anxious or even numb

  • Trouble concentrating or completing tasks

  • Loss of appetite

  • Inability to sleep, even when the baby is sleeping

  • Sleeping but experiencing nightmares or flashbacks

  • Feelings of anger or indifference towards the baby; may not feel connected with the baby or others

  • Constant worry, obsessive thoughts or activities

  • Difficulty coping with daily activities

  • Feeling hopeless

While most women are screened at least once by their medical providers during the postpartum period, one time is not enough. These conditions don’t always present immediately nor within the first 6 months, and when there isn’t ongoing screening, there missed opportunities to identify these serious but treatable conditions. Expecting to feel “blissed out” or being asked/told “Isn’t it great?!” leaves these mothers feeling scared, alone and ashamed, wondering “what’s WRONG with me?”. I’ve learned to suggest to moms in the year after giving birth, that “it’s ok to not be ok”, allowing many women to honestly acknowledge their unexpectedly painful postpartum feelings, to learn that they’re not alone and to get connected to information and support to help them during this emotionally vulnerable time. Left undiagnosed and untreated for postpartum mood and anxiety disorders, women bond less with their children, may turn to alcohol, drugs or other activities to distract and self-medicate and are more prone to future anxiety and mood disorders. And for their children, these conditions can impact their ongoing development and creates increased risk of depression. This takes the saying “Happy mom, happy family” to a deeper level.

Postpartum mental health conditions are NOT a reflection of a woman’s character, nor indicative of her success or failure as a mother. Rather, these are medical conditions that require attention and can respond well to treatment such as support groups, counseling and sometimes medication. For those looking for support with other women, Christiana Care offers a free, weekly evening support group at Christiana Hospital. For more information, call (302) 733-6662. And we are fortunate that the Delaware Coordinator for Postpartum Support International (PSI) is local resident Julie O’Neill, who can offer information, encouragement and resources. Feel free to call her at (302) 584-8249.

If you are interested in participating in the Climb Out of the Darkness events at Lums Pond or Cape Henlopen State Parks on June 14th, visit the Climb Out of Darkness Delaware 2015 page on Facebook.

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