As a guest co-host on the television show The View, Alysa Milano, star of movies and television shared an essay she wrote as part of Mental Health Awareness Month. She openly discussed her diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder, and her belief it was triggered by post-partum depression following the birth of her son. In her essay she wrote, “I began to develop irrational and obsessive fears. Finally, I hit a wall. One early morning, I went to the emergency room at 2:00 AM, asked for a psychiatrist and got help.” The list of celebrities sharing stories of their struggles with mental illness following the birth of a child is a long one. The physical and emotional demands of childbirth followed by six to eight weeks postpartum are difficult for many women.
Postpartum depression usually begins within weeks of giving birth. “It is linked to chemical, social and psychological changes associated with having a baby.” The term describes a range of physical and emotional changes. In a recent survey of 1,000 new moms, 27% admitted feeling overwhelmed and unprepared - within days of arriving home with baby. Many found all the help and support from neighbors, family and friends more exhausting than helpful. They felt the need to play hostess, prepare meals, schedule activities and entertain while providing round-the-clock care for themselves and their new bundle of joy. This was particularly true when extended family arrived from out of state to share in the celebration. Unfortunately, the sadness, guilt, and trouble making decisions begins long after the “help” has returned home.
Spouses and children (immediate family) can find postpartum depression frightening. Spells of crying, extreme mood swings, heightened anxiety, uncontrollable anger and refusal to get out of bed can be misunderstood. Symptoms can include loss of appetite, feeling unhappy, unworthy and helpless. More severe symptoms include confusion, hallucinations, thoughts of self-induced pain, death and suicide. A new Mom may be reluctant or embarrassed to seek help, especially if she has given birth in the past. She might not know she is experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression. When the children begin to ask, “what’s wrong with mommy”, or a spouse or family member becomes concerned seek medical help immediately. Each childbirth experience is physiologically and psychologically different. Postpartum depression is simply a risk factor in giving birth.
The risk of postpartum depression increases when the mother has a history of mental illness, is experiencing relationship problems, or is living in a dysfunctional environment. Financial problems, a history of abuse or a baby with health problems or special needs can increase the risk. Parent Magazine featured an article titled: 13 Celebrity Moms Who Overcame Postpartum Depression. It is the hope of the magazine and the celebrity moms, the myths and misconceptions of this common complication of childbirth will be quashed. Postpartum Depression is more than “baby blues” and happens to women from all walks of life. Reach out to a counselor, therapist or psychiatrist for help.