The most common complication in pregnancy is the easiest to prevent and treat.
About 1 in every 6 new moms suffers from postpartum depression. Even so, there is a stigma associated with the disease and a cultural discomfort in discussing it. This stigma gets in the way of diagnosis and leads to far more suffering than necessary.
The things that are expected of new mothers are so unreasonable. You can be madly in love with your baby, but still feel overwhelmed in the early weeks and months.
Dr Diana Barnes, an internationally recognized expert on the assessment and treatment of perinatal mood disorders, personally struggled with postpartum depression. “The stigma is built around the cultural mythology that new mothers are blissful, they’re always happy, and they can withstand sleep deprivation, malnutrition, a crying baby: new motherhood, ” says Barnes. “The things that are expected of new mothers are so unreasonable. You can be madly in love with your baby, but still feel overwhelmed in the early weeks and months. Then, you’re ashamed that you’re miserable, because you’re supposed to feel happy.”
Dr Barnes brought up her symptoms to numerous experts and health care providers over 25 years ago when nobody was talking about this. They all told her that what she was experiencing was normal anxiety due to the adjustment to her new baby. As a result, her symptoms became quite severe before she finally found somebody who would listen to her and knew how to treat her.
If Dr Barnes had been diagnosed appropriately from the outset, her struggle with postpartum depression could have lasted only weeks instead of 3 long years. Huge changes were needed in the field, and Dr Barnes has since played a major role carrying out those changes. She now passionately educates women, families, clinicians, physicians and other health care providers about assessment, treatment, and the critical need for early intervention of “perinatal mood and anxiety disorders” (the inclusive term that describes postpartum depression and related disorders).
Ask for help, and don’t stop asking until you find somebody who will listen.
The fact is, some anxiety is normal and part of adjusting to having a new baby in your life. But those feelings, referred to as ‘baby blues’, go away after 2 or 3 weeks time. The concern comes if you’re still feeling anxious after a few weeks, or if you’re not sleeping, not eating, feeling disoriented and confused. Postpartum depression doesn’t look like depression — it feels like anxiety.
Dr Barnes’ top piece of advice for anybody who feels that they may be suffering from these symptoms: “Ask for help, and don’t stop asking until you find somebody who will listen.” There is a tendency to go to friends or care providers who are not experts in perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. In these cases, new mothers are often told that they’re just adjusting and otherwise totally fine. If the disease is not diagnosed, it can’t be treated.
“The most important way we can prevent postpartum depression is to increase awareness. As women, most of us are sensitive to what we’re going through. We just need someone to validate that. Just as we educate ourselves about breast cancer, we need to educate ourselves about postpartum depression. It’s great for women to know that they’re not to blame, they’re not alone. There’s treatment, there’s help, there are other people who know what you’re going through. With proper treatment you’re going to get well.”
What’s involved with treatment? It all starts with sharing your specific story with an expert in the field. As Dr Barnes describes it, “the diagnosis is far less important than the story.” Even simply sharing her story openly goes a long way towards helping a woman feel better. From there, typically there is a combination of therapy and medicine.
We know that absence of social support is high on the list of risk factors. If we increase someone’s access to support, we eliminate one of the risk factors.
Dr Barnes also offers a group therapy option for additional social support. “Group support is a very important aspect of treatment. Because there’s so much stigma attached to postpartum depression, there’s a tendency to feel very isolated and alone. Sitting in a room with someone else who says ‘oh my gosh, that’s how I felt’ lessens that sense of isolation. That’s really appealing. We know that an absence of social support is high on the list of risk factors. If we increase someone’s access to support, we eliminate one of the risk factors.”
At Covey we strive to provide a safe, supportive community to help new parents connect and lessen feelings of isolation. Helping our members find the social support they need is our top priority. We are proud to announce that Covey is partnering with Dr Barnes to launch an ‘Emotional Health’ covey within the Covey app. Dr Barnes will engage in the community as a listening ear, a facilitator and a source of support for anyone who needs it.
“I’m hoping that through the Covey community, women will be able to educate themselves and increase their awareness of the potentially serious mood disorders that are absolutely treatable.”