New motherhood is a wonderful, amazing thing. It’s also a very hard combination of sleep deprivation, fluctuating hormones and a totally altered life landscape. So it’s far from surprising that an estimated one in nine new mothers combats postpartum depression. What is surprising is how much work we still have to do with providing support for postpartum mood disorders.
Case in point: When California mom Jessica Porten told the nurse practitioner at her follow-up OB appointment that she had symptoms of postpartum depression, she was met not with medical guidance and care—but by police officers who escorted her to the hospital for a possible psychiatric hold.
In a now-viral post on Facebook, Porten detailed the irony of her experience:
“I leave the ER at midnight, my spirit more broken than ever, no medication, no follow up appointment, never spoke to a doctor. This was a 10 hour ordeal that I had to go through all while caring for my infant that I had with me. And that’s it. That’s what I got for telling my OB that I have PPD and I need help. I was treated like a criminal and then discharged with nothing but a stack of xeroxed printouts with phone numbers on them.”
After her Facebook post was met with the support that was so unfortunately missing from her encounters with health care professionals, Porten added she doesn’t plan to take legal action. Rather, she hopes her story will be shared far and wide so that we may actually “fix the broken system” that reprimands people like her for speaking up about maternal mental health struggles.
The truth is that seeking help for mood disorders is one of the most vulnerable things any person can do. This is especially true for mothers—who are often made to feel like they “should” be happy and have it all together. (When that absolutely isn’t always the case.)
As a result, a study recently published in the Maternal and Child Health Journal found that one in five of women with postpartum mood disorder symptoms never report their experiences to health care professionals.
“Our study finds that many women who would benefit from treatment are not receiving it because they don’t tell anyone that they’re dealing with any challenges,” says Betty-Shannon Prevatt, the study’s lead author.
Changing this is a two-fold task: First, we need to work together to remove the stigmas against mental health struggles. And a we need a health care system that treats all women equally and respectfully—especially as comprehensive studies show wide disparities in mental health treatment for low-income and minority mothers.
The goal with this shouldn’t just be working to avoid harm to other families like the Portens; it should be to ensure help is widespread.