Updated: May 3, 2021
By Eleni Pacheco
Though our society has been addressing stigma by bringing awareness to mental health issues for the last 20 years, it has been a slow process. Globally, only 60% of those struggling to achieve mental wellness seek treatment. Recognizing that the majority of people still have negative attitudes about those with mental health issues, many choose to distance themselves socially, bearing the burden alone instead. Perhaps one of the least talked about mental ailment is postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression is a mood disorder characterized by extreme sadness, heightened anxiety, and mental and physical exhaustion. It happens to one in seven people who have recently given birth and can last for months or years if not treated. Unfortunately, lack of awareness, education, and access to mental health treatment stops many from getting the help they need. In some cases, those suffering from postpartum depression cope with self-harm or even suicide.
Suicide is the second leading cause of postpartum death.
With one out of every five postpartum deaths happening as a result of suicide, addressing postpartum depression needs to be a public health priority. Awareness and understanding is the key to catching any mental health issue quickly. Due to the swift progression from depression and anxiety to feelings of wanting to harm oneself, it’s important for new parents and their support systems to educate themselves on maternal illness.
Many extreme changes happen during pregnancy, birth, and after birth that can lead to depression and self-harm. The brain functions differently during pregnancy, producing a heightened hormonal balance of estrogen and progesterone. Once the body signals that it is no longer pregnant, the brain quickly shifts gears. Such rapid chemical changes sometimes don't find balance without the help of mindfulness and medication. Giving birth is also physically traumatic and requires substantial time for healing and recovery. During this time, it is important to feel supported. Family can step up to make this transition easier by helping to alleviate general life stressors.
Unfortunately, there are many new mothers out there who may not have a strong familial support system. Across the U.S. 8.5 million mothers are raising children without a committed partner and due to policies in the Family and Medical Leave Act, they are only guaranteed 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave. Most begin working again within two weeks of giving birth. For these people, it may feel like there are places to turn.
Professionals in San Antonio made it a priority to address the lack of support for struggling new parents. The Nurse-Family Partnership was established to provide excellent in-home support and are trained at recognizing the difference between the baby blues and postpartum depression. Indeed, there is hope for a brighter tomorrow.
Postpartum depression is serious and requires immediate care. To prevent people who are experiencing postpartum depression from harming themselves, they need support in recognizing the signs, access to a safe environment, such as a hospital, therapy, and, in some cases, medication.
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HOME to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.
Eleni Pacheco, San Antonio Project Coordinator, discovered their passion for culture and sexuality while studying anthropology at UTSA. They chose to work in sex ed with the mission of creating world peace through shared power and community efficacy. Outside of education, Eleni shows love by feeding their friends (often experimenting on them with new recipes) and bonding over backyard karaoke.