As I mentioned earlier this month, May is Mental Health Awareness Month. What I didn't realize, until now, is that congress designated it so back in 1949. We've come a long way since then but I'm not sure we've come far enough. Mental health is still stigmatized and generalized. It's time for that to change.
Postpartum depression is a mental health illness that affects at least 20% of all new mothers (this statistic varies depending upon where you look but 20% seems to be the number quoted most often). That percentage only reflects reported cases; how many women go untreated because they are afraid to go to their doctor with their concerns? I suspect more than we'd like to believe.
I found it surprising, when I decided to go "public" with my PPD, how many women I met sighed with relief and said, "so did I!" Yet less than half of them had spoken to their doctors about it. I'm not saying every woman with PPD depression needs to be medicated - that's a personal decision between a woman and her doctor - what I'm saying is that it's frightening how many women think it's something to be embarrassed about. For a time, I was one of them.
PPD isn't caused by something we do or did. It's an illness that can affect us as randomly as a flu virus. Sure, some women have a history that may possibly predispose them to it but for many it's a surprise and a shock. The important thing to remember is that there is help and it's OK.
The best thing I ever did was stop hiding my postpartum depression. When I finally started telling family and friends it was like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I didnt' have to hide any more. I could concentrate on getting well instead of pretending I was well. Huge, huge impact for me. No, it wasn't easy. In fact it was one of the most difficult things I had ever done. True, some people backed away from me and some believe the stigma and the generalizations but if these people cannot, or will not, support me (and my family) why would I want to be surrounded by them? The people that matter have been supportive, caring, and understanding (even if they don't understand).
What is right for me might not be right for someone else. I realize that. I also believe, however, that if we can educate the public about PPD, remove the stigma, correct the misinformation, and make it something that is talked about, then maybe more women would be inclined to get the help that they need (whatever that may be).