It’s 2012, so you probably think things are different now. Postpartum depression stigma? Not any more, you say, not much anyway.
There was Tom Cruise and Brooke Shields. Dooce. Gwyneth Paltrow. Just last week Alanis Morissette was open about her experience. We talk about postpartum depression! Everyone talks. We know. We’re good. We get it.
Except people still don’t know much at all about PPD. They’re surprised when I tell them as many as 1 in 5 new moms get it, and even more shocked when they learn how few are ever treated for it (about 15% according to some research). They don’t know that, according to my readers at Postpartum Progress, most childbirth educators and docs teach their patients so little about postpartum depression that many don’t recognize that they have it or know what to do about it. Moreover, the public is unaware that when you don’t get treatment it can lead to lifelong — yes, LIFELONG (I’M SHOUTING!!!) — health and developmental problems for your child. And they’re often skeptical about how much stigma still exists.
Stigma still abounds when it comes to the emotional health issues of pregnant and new moms. I know because I watch carefully. I see what people say, every day, about postpartum depression and the moms who have it, moms who’ve never done anything wrong. They’re good women and good mothers and they got an illness they didn’t ask for and didn’t cause, yet they’re made fun of and ridiculed.
Below is just a small sampling of the kind of tweets I see every day on Twitter about PPD. These are actual tweets, I assure you.
- Just a hoe starved for attention like postpartum depression. (I take great glee that this person spelled ho wrong.)
- I feel like one of those postpartum depression mothers that drowns all of her kids. My dog won’t SHUT UP.
- #postpartum depression: All these momsters getting away with the killing of their babies
- My new-mother Barbie just killed her kids due to postpartum depression!
- I took such a huge sh*t today that I suffered from postpartum depression for about 17 minutes.
- Postpartum depression. Just b*tches being b*tches. (Thank you so much, Daniel Tosh, for that one, which I see repeated daily.)
Tweets like these reinforce persistent myths about PPD. Myths like the idea that moms with PPD are just selfish and want all the attention for themselves, which is not true. Myths like the concept that mothers with PPD harm or kill their children. Once and for all, they don’t. A very small percentage of mothers with postpartum psychosis, not PPD, do. Postpartum psychosis has a 10% risk of suicide or infanticide, which is why it’s such a serious illness requiring immediate treatment.
You tell me how a scared, confused mother is going to feel about reaching out for help when she sees things like the tweets above sent out to the world by friends, family members, coworkers or acquaintances. Will she think twice? Will she decide to suffer in silence, rather than worry about losing her job, or her life insurance, or her friends, or her marriage?
It takes a great act of courage, amid all the stigma, to admit openly that you’re miserable as a new mother, or that you’ve been having intrusive thoughts and are worried you’ll harm your baby. We should be doing all we can, for the sake of the health of mothers and babies, to speak up against that stigma whenever and wherever we see it. All mothers should be able to feel comfortable asking for help.
Don’t miss a moment – make sure you add Something Fierce to your RSS reader by using this link. If you’re a pregnant or new mom (or dad), be sure to check out Katherine at her blog on postpartum depression, too. And, you can follow her on Twitter as she tweets inane things about her day.
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