Gina over at The Feminist Breeder Blog recently realized that she is suffering from postpartum anxiety. She was able to reach out for, and get, help from a psychiatrist.   She wrote about the negative reaction she got on the web from some readers after she said she’d be taking medication in a post titled, “And This Is Why We Don’t Talk About Our Anxiety Problems on the Internet“.

As you might imagine, there were people who think she is wrong to take medication and that there are plenty of other ways to get over depression and anxiety than antidepressants.  You already know how I feel about people who judge others’ treatment decisions.  (Grrrrrrr.)  I thought it would be fun to do a little Fact Check on some of the statements people made, as shared by Gina in her post:

“You can cure this with raw cashews.”

You must be kidding. There is absolutely no scientific evidence of the effectiveness of cashews for the treatment of postpartum depression and anxiety.

“Fish oil is a better solution.”

Omega-3s have shown promise when it comes to ameliorating symptoms of depression.  Dr. Marlene Freeman of the MGH Center for Women’s Mental Health has said that, because of depletion of maternal fatty acids by the fetus during pregnancy and lactation, in addition to insufficient dietary consumption, Omega-3 used at therapeutic doses represents a potential benefit to both the mother and the infant.” What research hasn’t shown is that it’s a cure, so there’s certainly no harm in taking fish oil and if it works to stop your depression or anxiety, great. If it doesn’t, you need to talk with your doctor about other options.

“Have you even looked into natural remedies?”  “Why haven’t you been treated by a naturopath?”

We have: The Best Complementary and Alternative Medicine Treatments for Postpartum Depression.  Bottom line?  Some natural remedies do show some promise, but often for those with milder depression or anxiety.  There is nothing at all wrong with trying “natural remedies” to treat mental illness, but just don’t make the assumption that they are somehow safer. That’s not true. To learn more, read Are Natural Methods Safer and As Effective for Treating Postpartum Depression?

“Pills are the easy way out.”

Because taking the hard way out would be better? In case this person doesn’t know, the hard way out would be getting no treatment at all.  Here’s what can happen to women and children when mom gets no treatment at all for postpartum depression or anxiety: psychiatric illness when the baby becomes an adult, potential chronic depression or anxiety for the mother, attachment/bonding problems between mom and baby, and cognitive, behavioral and developmental problems for the baby.  So if you’re arguing that you are so against taking medication when indicated that it would be okay with you for a mom to accept lifelong health problems for both herself and her child, I say you are out of your mind.

“You’re only putting a bandaid on the problems.”

This assumes that the reasons a mother has anxiety or depression are only social, the kind of things medication wouldn’t help.  I don’t think you can make that kind of assumption. During a mental health crisis, it sometimes takes medication just to get someone well enough to be able to work on their problems via therapy, support groups or other methods.

“If you just quit going to school, you wouldn’t be so stressed.”

How the heck do you know? This assumes that it’s school stress and school stress ONLY that is causing the severe anxiety. Usually the situation is much more complex than that.

“Those drugs are going to hurt your baby.”

This blanket statement is not true. If the commenter was referring to breastfeeding, there are antidepressants that have been highly researched in terms of their transmission into breast milk and their effect on infants.  There are lots of great resources on this.  Check them out here: Which Psychiatric Medications Are Safe for Breastfeeding?

“All you need to do is eat better and exercise more.”

It is true that a healthy diet, good rest and exercise can have a positive impact on anyone’s health, including their mental health.  This doesn’t mean, though, that it can completely cure any mental illness.  Can you imagine telling someone with schizophrenia they just need to exercise more?

“Acupuncture cures everything.”

Acupuncture does not cure everything. I should know.  I tried a series of acupuncture from a highly trained specialist when I had severe nerve damage and it didn’t work because I had scar tissue.  So please don’t make blanket statements like that.

“A Feminist wouldn’t take pills.”

I’m not even sure this is worth a response. Still, I checked the FemPop blog, which represents the views of feminist psychologists, and didn’t see a single mention about feminists not taking medication for mental illness when indicated.  Maybe I missed it somewhere, but I doubt it.  If I had the time, I’d ask the head of the Society for the Psychology of Women, Stephanie A. Shields, PhD, who is a professor of psychology and women’s studies at Penn State where she coordinates the dual-title PhD in Women’s Studies and Psychology. I’m betting she’ll say that you don’t lose your feminist card if you take an antidepressant.

As always, talk to your doctor. Share your symptoms, how long you’ve had them, how severe they are, what your risk factors are.  Work with that person — a trained medical professional — to pick the path to recovery that’s best for you.

For more on this topic, see:

Postpartum Depression and the Stigma of Happy Pills

No Judgment Allowed: What Saves One Woman May Not Save Another