October 25, 2004
Over half a million women a year are plagued by postpartum depression (PPD). They often suffer in silence, with some women enduring thoughts of harming their children, and others feeling depressed and hopeless. Dr. Phil offers advice and additional resources to help women and their loved ones get out from under the dark cloud of despair.
Keep stress to a minimum.
A stressor is anything that puts a demand on you, which is exactly what pregnancy does to your body, biochemically, physically and mentally. Dr. Victoria Hendrick, Director of the UCLA Pregnancy and Postpartum Mood Disorders Program, suggests ways of de-stressing such as getting into a support group, taking care of yourself, eating healthy, and psychotherapy. Dr. Phil also recommends talking therapy, relaxation exercises, a vigorous exercise program and yoga.
Don’t suffer in silence.
Many women don’t discuss postpartum depression — especially if they have thoughts of harming themselves or their children — for fear of being viewed as a bad mother or having their kids taken away. “The way this spins out of control is that people let themselves experience shame and guilt and so they hide this,” Dr. Phil points out. Talk about what you’re feeling to your doctor, your husband, your friends or your religious leader. “God hasn’t judged you; they haven’t judged you,” Dr. Phil says. “You’ve got to talk about this to other people.”
One mother who suffers from PPD called herself "Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde" because she knew she was a good mother, but she had such severe mood swings. In your rational moments, write down what you know to be true about yourself. Are you a responsible person, a good citizen and a caring mother? "You need to write those anchors down," Dr. Phil advises. "And during those times when you start saying, 'I don't know who I am,' you need to go there and say, 'This is who I am.'" You can also ask your mate to write down your positive attributes. It helps to see your thoughts on paper, so post them on your refrigerator door or mirror. Try leaving yourself a voice message on your telephone. When postpartum depression creeps up on you, you'll have verbal and visual reminders of your true character.
Make sure your partner is supportive.
"When you get postpartum depression, the whole family gets postpartum depression," Dr. Phil explains. Many husbands may think their wives are "crazy" or lazy if they stop doing household chores or stay in bed for days at a time, but some moms feel overwhelmed by depression or nagging feelings of worthlessness. Make sure your mate is empathetic and sensitive to your needs.
Don't blame yourself.
Understand that you can't be blamed for feelings of despair or depression. If you start feeling excessive or inappropriate guilt, recognize that you didn't choose this disorder. "You haven't done anything wrong," Dr. Phil stresses. "This isn't something that you should feel guilty about."
Consult a physician about medication.
Recent studies show that if women start treatment the day the baby is born, the likelihood of having a relapse is reduced dramatically. If you're nursing, talk to your doctor about which antidepressants are safe to take without a great risk to your child. "In a perfect world, you wouldn't be taking any medications," Dr. Hendrick stresses, pointing out that women suffering from PPD shouldn't rely solely on the antidepressant.