Postpartum Depression: Debunking Denial

by Shoshana S Bennett, PhD

Confusion Abounds

mom and crying newbornA double standard exists between how society regards the health conditions that can be measured through a blood test or an x-ray and those that are considered to be mental illnesses. Researcher and practitioners in the field accept that postpartum depression is quite physical (they can't yet measure it through a blood test). Nevertheless, many people buy into the stigma that because much of PPD manifests itself emotionally, it's a sign of weakness and should be under the control of the person.

Have you heard people making these statement:

  • "She's just feeling down."
  • "She's just not mature enough to have a baby."
  • "She's just being selfish and spoiled."
  • "She just wants to call attention to herself now the spotlight is on her new baby."
  • "She'll get over it."

Real Postpartum Depression Facts

PPD unquestionably exists, and it affects roughly one in every five new moms. Every since I began recovering in 1987 from my second life-threatening bout with PPD and all the way up to the present, I've been studying every piece of reliable research on the subject from all over the world. the articles I've written for different organizations and agencies in many countries contain the same basic information because the women in their countries are experiencing the same symptoms.

PPD has physical (biochemical and hormonal) as well as psychological and emotional causes. Although researchers devoting their professional careers to the field of PPD hold varying theories regarding the biochemical causes of PPD, no one disagrees that the brain chemistry of women who suffer with this illness has undergone powerful physiological changes.

Although researchers believe that shifting hormone levels and changes to the hypothalamus and pituitary gland are involved, they still have much to discover regarding exactly what's happening and to whom -- enter the annual conferences of international postpartum organizations which are hopping with passionate folks eager to drink up the latest morsels from new research.

Regarding the psychosocial causes, quite a bit of research shows specific risk factors, such as a personal or family history of depression, poor social support (especially poor partner support) and isolation.

PPD isn't anybody's fault. Contrary to what many suffering parents may think, PPD is entirely beyond their control and they're in no way responsible for it. As with any other mood disorder, you didn't cause it, so if you're blaming yourself, stop.

You wouldn't wish this on yourself or anybody else. You didn't ask for this or want it to happen -- nor did anyone else want this to happen to you. And you're not responsible for your genes, either. If you have a family history of depression, you're no more responsible for being hard-wired for depression than you are responsible for your eye color.

Now that you have PPD, however, that's not to say you can't do something about making it go away -- hence the reason you picked up this book.

PPD is treatable. In some cases PPD can be entirely prevented, and in other cases, a much faster recovery occurs with proper intervention and treatment. As with any other illness, the faster you get help, the better your prognosis for a quicker recovery. I have the best job on Earth because I see women thoroughly recover from this illness every day.

The Good News

Even though it's clear from my 20 years of professional experience in this field and over five years of personal experience battling the illness that all four of these general points are true, society as a whole doesn't always stick to them. The good news, though, is that modern-day society is definitely becoming more enlightened about the subject.

Excerpted from Postpartum Depression for Dummies.