May is Perinatal Depression Awareness Month
After the birth of a child, most women experience a short period of mood swings and anxiety known as the “baby blues” as hormones return to normal levels. But according to a study published in JAMA Psychiatry in March, one in seven women will experience these feelings longer and more intensely than others will. This disorder, known as postpartum depression (PPD), is something Santa Cruz resident Jodi Koumouitzes-Douvia experienced firsthand.
“I was struggling to get up, feed my baby, take care of myself, make dinner for my family, and go to the grocery store. All these basic things were really hard for me,” says Koumouitzes-Douvia, who suffered from PPD after the birth of her son in 2005. “It seemed like all the other mothers I saw were doing fine. I didn’t understand what was wrong with me.”
Lacking knowledge of what they are going through, coupled with feelings of guilt and shame, many mothers suffering from PPD, like Koumouitzes-Douvia, choose not to share their struggles with anyone, even when they become problematic.
With this in mind, the State Public Affairs Committee designated the month of May as “Perinatal Depression Awareness Month” in 2010. In July 2012, a concerned group of local health professionals, administrators, and other professionals united to form the Santa Cruz Perinatal Mental Health Task Force (SCPMHTF) to make resources in the Santa Cruz community more available to mothers in need and raise awareness about perinatal depression, a term that encompasses mood and anxiety disorders during and after pregnancy.
“Raising awareness is key because so many mothers suffer in isolation,” says Maggie Muir, a family therapist and member of SCPMHTF. “The most important thing for a mother with postpartum distress to know is that they are not alone. Postpartum depression and anxiety is very common.”
The exact causes of PPD have been difficult for health professionals to identify, but a few of the factors that put a mother at risk include a history of other mood and anxiety disorders, stressful living situations during and after pregnancy, and social isolation. Mothers suffering from PPD can expect a variety of symptoms, including difficulty bonding with their infant, insomnia, loss of appetite, and feelings of despair.
Awareness is essential in preventing PPD, according to Genine Leighton, a therapist at Sutter Maternity and Surgery Center and member of SCPMHTF. When mothers become conscious of the fact that they may have a problem, they can reach out to their loved ones, health professionals, and groups like SCPMHTF to find the resources they need to alleviate their symptoms.
“Anxiety is a real condition, and it is completely treatable,” says Leighton.
Treatments for PPD vary for each individual depending on the severity and range of their symptoms, but they can include medication, self-care, therapy, and family and social support.
Discovering what works for each mom dealing with PDD takes trial and error, but quite often, as was the case with Koumouitzes-Douvia, a combination of treatments is the most effective.
“Having a good therapist, medication, and community support are what helped me,” she says. “I don’t think one alone would have been enough to make me content and functioning again.”
Eight years after her child was born, Koumouitzes-Douvia cherishes every moment she has with her son, and urges pregnant women and mothers not to make the same mistake she did of waiting to seek treatment until months after symptoms arose.
“I just don’t want anyone to have to go through what I went through,” she says. “I want women to look back and think of the early days of parenting as this precious, beautiful, and most joyous time.”
For more information about the Santa Cruz Mental Health Task Force, visit speakupsantacruz.org.