Dr. Priya Parikh discussing Postpartum Depression
& spreading awareness through Nima Bhakta's story:
More about Nima's story:
Nima was a 31 year old South Asian mom of a 7 month old baby boy who was suffering from Postpartum Depression (PPD) and ultimately lost her life to it. Before she passed, she wrote a letter to her family describing how isolated and shameful she felt for having postpartum depression, and that she felt as though she could not be the mom her son needed and deserved. Her wish was to increase awareness of Postpartum Depression and maternal mental health in hopes of preventing this from happening to anyone else. Her family, friends, and the community are working hard to increase awareness and remove the stigma attached to postpartum depression and mental health, especially in South Asian and Minority communities.
Why is there such stigma and shame attached to Postpartum Depression?:
New moms are under a lot of pressure during and after pregnancy to meet societal expectations of what a “good mother” looks like. The pressure to breastfeed, to “bounce back,” and to adjust to the needs of this new human instantaneously is incredibly overwhelming. When a mom isn’t able to figure out why her baby is crying, isn’t sleeping or eating, she may feel like it’s her fault and that there is something inherently wrong with her and her ability to be a mother which leads to an incredible amount of shame. Stigma stems from the lack of information on the emotional and hormonal toll that pregnancy and birthing a child can have and how it contributes to this emotional stress. There is a lack of awareness and education on what postpartum mental health looks like and how to seek support.
What is the difference between Postpartum Depression and Postpartum Blues?:
Postpartum blues is experienced by Approximately 80% of women who have recently given birth. Symptoms tend to be mild and include: bouts of crying, impatience, irritability, restlessness, anxiety, sadness, mood changes and poor concentration all of which are also exacerbated by lack of sleep and stress and can be described as an emotional roller coaster. Symptoms of Postpartum blues typically begin in the first few days following delivery and usually subside by about 2-3 weeks postpartum. If the symptoms persist beyond those few weeks and worsen, the blues can turn into postpartum depression.
PPD affects 1in 7 mothers and 1in10 fathers and symptoms can significantly impact the person’s ability to function in their daily life. Symptoms can start anytime during pregnancy or the first year postpartum. They differ for everyone and might include: feelings of anger or irritability, lack of interest in the baby, appetite and sleep disturbance, crying and sadness, feelings of guilt, shame, or hopelessness, loss of interest, joy or pleasure in things you used to enjoy, and possible thoughts of harming the baby or yourself. Suicide accounts for about 20% of postpartum deaths.
What are some of the barriers to women seeking treatment for PPD?:
Unfortunately, there are many barriers when it comes to the diagnosis and treatment for maternal mental health. The first is the healthcare system that inadequately addresses postpartum care for new mothers. By the time the 6 week OB visit happens, the baby has already seen his/her pediatrician 4-5 times. Some doctors are better than others about assessing for and referring patients to mental health professionals but this gap in care needs to be addressed. Postpartum International is working towards bridging this gap through education and initiatives.
Stigma and culture are also huge barriers to treatment for a majority of women. Stigma within many cultures prevents women from talking about depression/anxiety and seeking help because of the shame attached to mental health. Many cultures still view mental illness as a weakness and even something that you can “choose” to snap out of. The struggles of parenthood may also be normalized for many people to where they believe that postpartum blues and depression might just be something that everyone goes through rather than speaking up and seeking support.
And lastly, our culture of social media and constant comparison, we see these images of mom’s on Instagram or Facebook who seem to be able to do it all and it sets this unrealistic expectation to have it all figured out. When new moms feel any sense of inadequacy, it takes a toll on her self-esteem and self-confidence and prevents her from reaching out for support.
How can we learn from women like Nima and help pregnant and new moms?:
Educate yourself and others on maternal mental health. Reach out to new moms via phone, zoom, or drive by visits, which is a part of the time we are living in now. The newborn period is already isolating and the pandemic is only exacerbating that feeling. Pay attention to the symptoms. If a new mom just doesn’t seem like herself, ask questions. Ask if they are getting sleep. Ask if they are eating or if you can send them some food. Encourage them to take time for themselves, even if that’s a quick phone call with a friend/family member or a shower. Remind them that they matter and that they are just as important as the new baby they brought into this world.
If you feel that the person is showing any signs of Postpartum Depression or Anxiety, encourage them to seek help or help them find a therapist/psychiatrist that can help. Sometimes the thought of seeking help is overwhelming in and of itself, so offer to help them and work together to find resources.
If you or anyone you know is suffering from Postpartum Depression, please get in touch to see how I can help or assist with finding the resources you need.