Recognizing Undiagnosed Postpartum Depression

At the age of 24, after the birth of our first son and deep in the throes of postpartum depression and anxiety, my therapist also diagnosed me with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. She explained I’d likely lived with the disorder most of my life.

Suddenly, much of my life made a whole lot more sense.

That freak out during the college application process? The heart monitoring I’d had done during my sophomore year of high school for “chest pain” that went unexplained? Sweat-inducing panic before tests? The antenatal depression I experienced with my daughter?

I made a lot of life choices—and mistakes—not understanding I lived with an anxiety disorder. I thought I lacked something that came to others easily. I didn’t understand I needed help, both from a therapist and occasionally medication, to help me function at my best.

Over a decade later, I now know how to cope with my anxiety and recognize when I’m slipping into a depressive episode. I have plans for what to do when I feel a panic attack coming on, and it’s all because I understand my diagnosis.

That’s why I have a really deep problem with an article written last month entitled, “Stop Whoring Out Your Undiagnosed Mental Illness.”

I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

And too many moms who experience postpartum mood and anxiety disorders don’t know what they don’t know.

At Postpartum Progress, we’re working really hard to raise awareness and break the stigma of postpartum depression, anxiety, OCD, bipolar, psychosis, PTSD, and all their various symptoms. We regularly share stories from moms who state they didn’t know anything about the mood disorder they experienced. They felt sideswiped by PMADs during what everyone else told them should have been the happiest time of their lives.

According to the CDC, 1 in 7 women will experience postpartum depression. And that’s just those who self-report and seek care by a professional. That number doesn’t include postpartum anxiety, psychosis, OCD, PTSD, and the other postpartum mood and anxiety disorders outside the PPD diagnosis. That number doesn’t include those who, for whatever reason—stigma, fear, ignorance of symptoms, family pressure, stubbornness—don’t seek care.

Only 15% of moms who experience symptoms seek care. Fifteen percent. That’s a lot of moms walking around with undiagnosed postpartum depression.

Too many moms still live through their child’s first year—and beyond—not understanding that motherhood doesn’t have to feel hopeless. That they don’t need to feel filled with rage. That intrusive thoughts don’t actually mean they’ll hurt their child. That it’s not normal to feel so overwhelmed with anxiety that you fear leaving the house, letting others hold your baby, or letting your child sleep.

Additionally, too many doctors miss and dismiss postpartum depression. “You’re a new mom. It’s supposed to feel hard.” Moms who find the courage to ask for help are turned away, feeling as though they’re just not good enough at motherhood. That instead of having a mood disorder, they’re just doing the whole mom thing wrong.

And let’s talk access: While the author of the offending article added a disclaimer that she didn’t mean to attack those who can’t afford care, access to care is a huge issues for those experiencing mental illness. Beyond economic disparity, wagging your finger at undiagnosed mental illness ignores the cultural stigmas that prevent some mothers from seeking care because mental illness is not okay within their society.

What we don’t need is an article telling anyone to stop complaining about their undiagnosed mental illnesses. Ever. Doing so leaves those who know they’re experiencing something feeling more silenced than ever. Doing so leaves moms who feel weighed down by the stigma of postpartum mood and anxiety disorders unable to push through and seek care.

What we do need is a society that welcomes those with mental illness and encourages them to seek care. One who meets them where they are and says, “I am here for you.” One that says, “It’s okay if you’re feeling this way. There’s hope. There’s help.”

When we attempt to silence hurting individuals, we hurt us all.

If you need help reaching out to seek care for postpartum mood and anxiety disorders for the first time, please let us know. We can connect you with specialists or support groups or Warrior Mom Ambassadors in your area who will lead you through the process.

You are not alone, diagnosed yet or not.