By Sonia Murdock

"After two months of suffering from severe anxiety attacks, feeling very, very sad but not really being able to cry and not being able to talk to anyone, I thought I must be losing my mind. I wanted to end it all. I thought my husband, new baby and four kids would be better off without me. I didn't really want to die. I didn't want to live either if I was going to be like this," shares Laura Cincotta, volunteer of the Postpartum Resource Center of New York. "I was crying out for help and no one could tell me what I had or how to treat it. I asked to be put in the hospital. I can absolutely understand how women can tragically lose their lives to this horrible but treatable illness. I feel fortunate that I found help."

Perinatal Mood Disorders is a general term used to describe a wide range of mental illnesses a woman may experience related to childbearing. It relates to women who are pregnant, who have had children or have had the loss of a pregnancy.
During pregnancy 10% of women will experience depression which is termed Antenatal Depression.

Approximately 60%-80% of mothers experience the Baby blues. This term refers to a period of temporary moodiness which usually begins 1-3 days after delivery. Symptoms may include crying spells, sadness, irritability, frustration and fatigue. These symptoms usually disappear on their own in a few days. The Baby blues are not considered postpartum depression.

Postpartum depression (PPD) is the most common medical complication related to childbearing. It is estimated 10% to 15% of women will experience postpartum depression. Some research has shown even higher amounts of occurrence. Symptoms of PPD are similar but more persistent than those of the Baby blues (lasting throughout the day and longer than a 2 week time period). Symptoms usually develop a few weeks after delivery but can occur at any time during the first year after childbirth. Symptoms may include frequent crying, sleep disturbances, appetite disturbances, anxiety and panic attacks, obsessive compulsive thoughts/behavior, and suicidal thoughts. The mom may feel inadequate, unable to cope and feel exhausted. She may feel ashamed about her feelings and fear what others will think of her. Many women often don't seek help on their own due to shame, stigma of mental illness, denial and ignorance of maternal mental health.

Postpartum psychosis (PPP) is a severe but rare disorder (1 or 2 women in a thousand) that can develop in the postpartum period. The illness is characterized by a loss of contact with reality for extended periods of time. Symptoms usually occur during the first few weeks after delivery and include auditory and/or visual hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, rapid mood swings, suicidal/infanticidal thoughts or actions. Postpartum psychosis is a very serious emergency and requires immediate medical attention. PPP may be the onset of bi-polar disorder.

"Through the Safe Motherhood Initiative, maternal mortality reviews are occurring with the consideration of the inclusion of researching the number of mothers lost to postpartum depression and psychosis. It is critical for society to examine suicide related to maternal mental illness. We must be educated about the seriousness of postpartum illness and support mothers during this vulnerable time to prevent tragedies," states Jane Honikman, Founding Director, Postpartum Support International.

Carol Blocker, mother of Melanie Blocker Stokes and PPP advocate shares her insight about losing her daughter to suicide related to postpartum psychosis. "I did not have to lose my beautiful daughter Melanie to postpartum psychosis. No other family should lose a loved one to this illness and have to suffer what our family has gone through. Mothers are committing suicide in very violent means, uncharacteristic of women. My daughter who was easy going and mild mannered jumped to her death. These women appear to run to their deaths. They can hardly wait to die. This is what is so frightening about postpartum psychosis and postpartum depression. Women have jumped in front of trains, some have hung themselves, stabbed themselves or lit themselves on fire. We must have standardized treatment plans so postpartum psychosis is no longer a deadly mental illness."
Congressman Bobby Rush of Chicago has introduced the Melanie Stokes Postpartum Depression Research and Care Act (HR2380).
"Women and their families going through postpartum depression need to know they are not alone. Not to blame and that they will feel better and get well. I know from my experience how they may feel otherwise. Suicide is not an option. Support is available." says Sylvia Buehning, postpartum psychosis survivor and Postpartum Resource Center of New York Advisory Board Member.

Postpartum Resource Center of New York, Inc. is the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization providing emotional support, educational information and support group and healthcare referrals to New York State women experiencing postpartum depression. Contact: Postpartum Resource Center of New York, Inc., 109 Udall Road, West Islip, NY 11795 phone: (631) 422-2255

Editors Note: Sonia Murdock is the Executive Director of Postpartum Resources of New York, Inc.

Mental Health Association in New York State, Inc. www.mhanys.org

March 2003


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