Don't Let the Terms 'Baby Blues' or 'Mild' Postpartum Depression Fool You

I want you to read a brief but great piece by John McManamy at McMan’s Depression and Bipolar Web called Mental Water Torture. It’s about the importance of not blowing off mild to moderate depression until it turns into major depression.

His words apply to women with antepartum and postpartum depression as well. If we ignore what we’re going through, just hoping it will wear off eventually, we may be sentencing ourselves to something much worse. An excerpt:

As I sit here writing this, the term mild to moderate depression mocks me. I won’t even begin to estimate how many years I’ve lost to a disorder predicated by the modifiers mild to moderate. The least they could have done was assign the name of a Shakespeare character: Hamlet’s disease, Lear’s disease, anything, really. Just so long as it doesn’t imply I was cut down in the prime of my youth by some invisible stupid Nerf bat pounding against the inside of my brain.

For the rest of you: You can end it right now. You don’t have to endure the mental water torture any longer.”

Why do we wait to reach out for treatment when we know something is wrong? Many reasons. There’s stigma and the fear of facing the unknown (including medication and therapy for those who’ve never had it). There are those of us who just don’t pay attention to how we’re feeling, and those of us who always put others ahead of ourselves. There are those of us who decide this is just the “baby blues,” even though the baby blues are a normal adjustment period that resolves itself approximately three weeks after delivery, and we are still feeling bad, perhaps getting worse, and have already moved past the first few weeks postpartum.

Susan Stone at Perinatal Pro adds to that list the misrepresentation in the media of postpartum mental illness. Compared to the consistently bedraggled, crazy-looking, blank-eyed moms portrayed on TV, many of us can function and present ourselves in a way that hides our underlying misery. Because of this, we think we don’t have an illness requiring professional help.

“There are mothers who may have a pregnancy-related mood disorder but think that because their symptoms do not equal the extreme drama portrayed in such [entertainment] stories, they do not have postpartum depression or another affective pregnancy-related disorder. They may conclude that their suffering is insufficient to warrant intervention and compassion. These are the mothers who know that something is wrong, but compare themselves to these extremely rare depictions and think they are just “blue” and attempt to tough it out—week after hellish week. So months of silent anguish continue and the potential joy of motherhood is lost to the woman, her infant and her family.”

None of these reasons for waiting to reach out for help is acceptable. It’s not worth the future pain we may cause ourselves.

Karen Kleiman, author of This Isn’t What I Expected and many other great books on our illnesses, wrote about this issue recently in a comment on my post on deciding whether to take meds during pregnancy:

“Sometimes people feel that a risk is greater if they “do” something or take action, as opposed to just letting things be. Like: “If I get on that airplane during the storm, the risk will be greater than if I don’t go.” That seems pretty clear.

Conversely, there are times when the risk is in fact higher when no action is taken, such as the decision not to do anything in response to having chest pains.

This is the case with women who are pregnant or postpartum. Women who are deciding whether or not to take medication are understandably unsettled by having to made this decision. Often they feel if they “take” the medication, they are taking an action, or engaging in behavior, or making a choice that increases the risk, or so they believe. Thus, they feel it would be better to do nothing.

But we know that in many of these cases, it is NOT better to do nothing and NOT TAKING ACTION can be detrimental; it can significantly increase the risk potential, particularly for women who are severely ill.

So it’s a perception thing. We perceive the risk to be greater if we take action. “If I put this pill in my mouth I will be hurting myself or my baby.” But it’s a faulty perception. Sometimes, the risk is much greater when we do not act.”

Exactly. There are a variety of effective treatments. Go talk to a professional to see if you need one. Act.

For another piece on this topic, read “The Myth of Wishing PPD Away.”