Imagine going to the doctor with your newborn baby because you are interested in receiving help for symptoms of depression only to be taken to the emergency room by the police. This is what happened to new mother Jessica Porten who had been experiencing symptoms of perinatal depression–previously known as postpartum depression–when she attempted to seek medical treatment
While it may sound like an overreaction, Dr. Darby Saxbe and Dr. Tiffany Moore Simas both agree that the healthcare provider was simply attempting to protect the mother and child by avoiding any potential harm. In any situation like this, Dr. Moore Simas, Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Pediatrics, Psychiatry and Quantitative Health Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and co-chair of Maternal Mental Health Expert Work Group at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, explains that either way a physician will face scrutiny by overreacting or under-reacting, so it’s better to overreact than under-react when there are safety concerns.
But symptoms similar to Porten’s are common in new mothers, so why do these situations continue to happen? Dr. Saxbe, Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Southern California, explains that one in seven women are affected by perinatal depression, with some populations being more highly affected. But, it still remains massively under-treated because of the stigma associated with mental illness.
Dr. Saxbe states that many new moms feel it’s wrong not to feel overjoyed by the birth of their child and don’t feel comfortable seeking treatment. Furthermore, Dr. Moore Simas explains that the symptoms of perinatal depression are oftentimes not associated with depression but instead attributed to being a normal part of pregnancy or recent birth.
While stigma and confusion with the symptoms of perinatal depression decrease the likelihood of an accurate diagnosis, there appears to be another issue—the lack of training given to OBGYNs. Dr. Saxbe notes OBGYNs often have little to no training in psychiatry and remain unqualified in properly screening and diagnosing perinatal depression. But, Dr. Moore Simas retorts by highlighting recent changes in the curriculum, including introducing mandatory mental health training.
Overall, it’s clear that perinatal depression continues to be an issue–one that often remains unspoken–and without identifying the issue, it’s difficult to facilitate meaningful change.
- Jessica Porten, new mother diagnosed with depression
- Dr. Darby Saxbe, Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Southern California
- Dr. Tiffany Moore Simas, Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Pediatrics, Psychiatry and Quantitative Health Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and co-chair of Maternal Mental Health Expert Work Group at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists