For many years I suffered from a fear of flying. When I talked about it, I generally got one of two reactions: people either felt compelled to share the story of their scariest flight or talked about recent plane crashes.
A third group of people — usually other women — would confess that they suffered from this phobia too. And many of them said their fear began when they were pregnant or after they had a baby.
So I wasn’t too surprised to find out that as many as 1 in 7 women suffer from significant symptoms of anxiety or depression during or after pregnancy. In fact, depression is the most common health problem women face and mental health concerns are the # 1 medical complication of pregnancy!
These are not women suffering from the so-called “baby blues.” Women who experience perinatal mood disorders may have panic attacks, feel hopeless, and sometimes have thoughts of harming the baby or themselves. Symptoms can begin any time during pregnancy and the first year or even more after childbirth.
Chris Raines MSN, APRN-BC is a Perinatal Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner at UNC’s Center for Women’s Mood Disorders. She says that many women who suffer from this common problem don’t talk about it. “Women are afraid to talk about it because of the stigma of mental illness. Some women are afraid they will lose custody of their baby. There’s a difference between thinking about harming your baby and actually doing it.”
If you think you may be one of the 800,000 women who suffer perinatal depression and anxiety, here’s a self-test that can help you figure out how severe your symptoms are. If you are in crisis, or know someone who is, call your doctor, 911, or the UNC crisis line at 1-984-974-3950.
Fortunately, health care providers are beginning to screen women for mental health issues during prenatal visits and pediatricians are using well-baby checkups to make sure mom is doing OK, too. There are also effective treatments — including medication and talk therapy. Check out these resources:
- Here’s a list of free support groups for new moms in North Carolina.
- The Online PPD Support Group provides a web site, posting boards, chat rooms, and an email list.
- The PSI “Warmline” offers basic information, support, and resources. You can call and leave a confidential message and a volunteer will return your call as soon as possible. The number is 1-800-944-4773.
- The UNC Center for Women’s Mood Disorders offers clinical treatment, including the country’s first inpatient program for women with moderate to severe depression. You can make an appointment by calling 1-984-974-5217.
North Carolina can do more. Several states mandate screening for perinatal depression. Others have education programs targeted at pregnant women or the caregivers who interact with them. And still others offer in-home treatment for new mothers — a model that has been shown to reduce the symptoms of depression.
A number of research studies are underway. One is testing the impact of telephone-based counseling. News outlets just this week reported on encouraging studies of new medications that work quickly for depression.
Finally, we need to reframe the way we think about motherhood — no mother is perfect and the expectations that we place on ourselves and others are simply unachievable. Let’s get rid of the “shoulds”, “should-nots” and the “always” and “nevers” that go into our expectations for the “perfect mother.” Let’s allow mothers to be Good Enough Moms.
For more information, check out these sites: