Postpartum depression affects as many as one in eight new moms, and it becomes most serious when it’s left untreated. “It’s rare, but the symptoms are very severe. You start losing touch with what’s real and imagined, you can have delusions and unpredictable actions,” says Catherine Carlton, an advocate for awareness about postpartum depression through her work with the Junior League of Palo Alto-Mid Peninsula. In the most extreme cases, she adds, women can kill themselves or their babies.
[In Pictures: 10 Baby Products You Should Never Buy]
To prevent that tragic outcome, women suffering from postpartum depression usually need professional help, but seeking it out can be difficult, especially when new moms are worried about the stigma of struggling with a mental illness or the financial challenges of paying for treatment. Women are most likely to get postpartum depression if they have a history of depression, experienced other big stresses such as relationship problems around the time of the birth, and suffer from financial problems. Having strong support from family and friends can help reduce the risk. We spoke with Carlton about the best ways to afford treatment for this serious condition. Excerpts:
How widespread is postpartum depression?
Generally, about 80 percent of women across the world experience some form of the baby blues, or just feeling really overwhelmed and cranky and not able to get any sleep. One in eight will really get postpartum depression, where they’re really sad, confused, anxious, irritable, and afraid they’re a really bad mom. And for one in 1,000 women who don’t receive treatment, it can become postpartum psychosis, where people start dying.
Why does it go untreated?
Some cultures are more open about it than others, but even in America today, people might think you’re weak. What should women do if they think they might be suffering from postpartum depression? The initial things that make a difference are just talking about your feelings. Talk with a doctor. It helps to ask friends and family to care for the baby so you have a chance to get sleep and eat a healthy diet. There are a lot of postpartum support groups online and in-person. If you’ve been feeling sad and cranky and it doesn’t go away after three weeks, then look into getting some help.
Can you recommend any free resources?
The great website run by Postpartum Support International has a postpartum scale with ten questions, so you can determine the level you might be at. They also have a Wednesday online chat with an expert, and you can find a map to help you find a list of local coordinators, doctors, and group meetings. It will tell you everything that’s available locally. (Volunteers offer to contact visitors within 24 hours.) Seven states, including Minnesota, New Jersey, and Illinois, have created state agencies to help deal with this problem, too. Postpartum Progress is another great site providing peer-to-peer support.
How do you know if you need to meet with a doctor?
It depends on the level of postpartum depression. If you have the baby blues, then online support might be enough, or sometimes even the information at babycenter.com. It has a good online board you can chat on, which is great for people who don’t feel comfortable opening up to family. It’s a great way to feel like you’re not going through this alone. Statistically, the soon you get help, the quicker you can get over it.