Last week, the Senate passed a monumental piece of mental health care legislation, with one powerful name: the “Bringing Postpartum Depression Out of the Shadows Act.” The bill, which was proposed by Rep. Katherine M. Clark (D-Mass.) and approved by the House of Representatives just last week, will provide federally funded grant money to states in order to allow them to develop and/or maintain postpartum depression screening and treatment programs. The grants will also allow states to create maternal mental health care outreach programs, aimed at helping women who are pregnant or who recently gave birth.
Clark, a mother of three herself, explained why this matters on Twitter November 30:
“No mom should feel alone while suffering from the pain, isolation, and frustration that comes with postpartum depression. The health and success of families include — and begin with — the whole health of our moms. The passage of the Bringing Postpartum Depression Out of the Shadows Act means we’re taking active steps to break down the stigmas that have kept moms from getting the care they need and deserve.”
But how many moms need help? Experts estimate that 600,000 women will suffer from postpartum depression each year. (That’s one out of seven new moms.) However, only 15 percent will receive treatment.
Of course, the reasons women do not seek help vary: Some women avoid speaking out due to shame; due to “the stigma.” Others don’t even realize they need it. They know they are tired, emotional, and overwhelmed, but they feel that is just par for the parenting course. They believe all new moms feel the same way. And then there are those who simply cannot access mental health resources. They cannot find them; they cannot afford them; they cannot get their foot in an office door for weeks, or even months.
And I would know. Not only was I a statistic — I was one of 600,000 — I was a woman who almost didn’t get help. I was a woman who almost lost her life.
You see, I gave birth to my first, and only child, in the summer of 2013. The first few weeks were a haze of sleepless nights and restless days, and while I was emotional — I was crying multiple times a day, every day — I didn’t think much of it. Not early on, anyway. But by the time my daughter was 6 weeks old, I knew something was wrong. I was distant and despondent, empty and numb, and I was angry.
I didn’t want to hold my daughter, feed my daughter, and the sound of her cry was like nails on a chalkboard. Each whimper and whine grated against my heart, and my soul.
However, even though I knew the symptoms — I had a history with depression and mental illness and had spoken with my OB-GYN months before I gave birth — I didn’t call him when the “warning signs” showed up. I didn’t tell my mother I was struggling, my brother, or even my husband. Instead, I kept my illness a secret. Out of fear. Out of guilt, and out of shame because these were supposed to be the “best days of my life.”
Why wasn’t I happy? I should be happy.
When I finally admitted I needed help — shortly after my daughter’s 4-month birthday — I was suffering so deeply and so desperately I was considering suicide.
I’d had suicidal visions and thoughts. I had made a plan.
The good news is, my husband knew how to help. He immediately implored me to reach out to my doctor; to take care of myself. But things took a darker turn when I realized I couldn’t see a psychiatrist for six more weeks. (It was late November when I got a recommendation from my doctor, and I was told I couldn’t see someone until January 8. Two months and entire calendar year away.)
I called my OB-GYN in a fury.
I couldn’t stand the thought of living another day, how could I make it another six weeks if I couldn’t make it through the next six minutes?
Thankfully, my doctor stayed late to see me that very night — and started me on a medication the next morning — but my battle didn’t end there. I fought with PPD well into 2014, and struggled for 16 full months.
Make no mistake: I am one of the lucky ones. Whether fate or faith intervened I cannot be sure, but I did get help. I was one of the “15 percent,” but not all mothers are as fortunate. Not all mothers make it through postpartum depression alive.
So for me — a thankful survivor and mom-turned-mental-health-advocate — this new piece of legislation is important. It is imperative, and it is game-changing. Because by removing the shame and secrecy and stigma surrounding maternal mental illness, and by removing the obstacles many women face on their road to recovery, we have a chance to change these numbers. We have a chance to change these statistics. We have a chance to save lives.