May is Mental Health Awareness Month and Maternal Mental Health Month
May is Mental Health Awareness Month and Maternal Mental Health Month, drawing attention to the need for mental health resources for women facing this challenging time of life.
Commonly coined the “baby blues,” nearly 1 in 5 women experience a mental health condition while pregnant or shortly after birth, according to the World Health Organization. Common conditions include depression, anxiety, irritability or even PTSD. Yet a staggering 75% of those affected do not seek treatment.
When I began experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression after the birth of my first child, I didn’t know that the feelings I faced were signs of a larger issue. I wanted to have kids, and I always had a picture in my mind of how it was supposed to be. But then there was just…this depressed feeling. I couldn’t do what I wanted to do, and I felt like I couldn’t be the kind of mom that this cute baby deserved.
No matter how much you love your child, there is no debate that having a baby and navigating the challenging months that follow can take a toll – physically, emotionally and socially. Hormone levels are changing, you’re often operating on only a few hours of sleep, and it’s common to experience feelings of isolation as you adjust to this new period of life. My story is just one of many examples of the challenges women face, yet I was fortunate to have a strong support system to help me find a solution.
Eye-opening data in a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. saw one of the worst rates of maternal mortality in the country’s history – a nearly 40% increase in maternal deaths from 2020 to 2021. This number is particularly concerning due to suicide being a leading cause of maternal mortality, accounting for 20% of postpartum deaths. Further data from the Maternal Behavioral Health Policy Evaluation study shows that the prevalence of suicidality, including suicidal ideation or intentional self-harm, during pregnancy or after childbirth has nearly tripled over the past decade.
Several factors may increase the risk for new mothers to develop postpartum depression, such as family or personal history of mental health disorders, lack of support from loved ones, financial strain or the stress that comes from a high-risk pregnancy or trouble breastfeeding.
Additionally, stigma, fear of judgment and lack of awareness of the signs of postpartum depression are common obstacles preventing moms from seeking mental health services. I recall motherhood looking so effortless for everybody else. But for me, it just didn’t feel that way. It felt hard, and as a result, I was very hard on myself.
It’s completely natural to feel a roller coaster of emotions before and after childbirth. However, when symptoms persist or worsen, it’s time to seek professional help. Common warning signs include:
- Persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or despair
- Changes in appetite or sleep patterns
- Difficulty coping with daily stressors
- Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Isolating yourself from loved ones or friends
- Persistent feelings of anxiety or worry
- Increased irritability, mood swings, or an unusually short temper
- Turning to drugs or alcohol to cope with your emotions
- Difficulty functioning at work or school
- Gaining or losing weight
- Feeling intense feelings of guilt or shame
- Having trouble bonding with your baby
- Experiencing suicidal ideations or thinking about harming your baby
- Having intrusive thoughts, for example, worrying about life-threatening situations involving your baby
After navigating the complexities of accessing mental health care, I founded Elite DNA Behavioral Health 10 years ago with my postpartum experience at the very foundation of my mission to make mental health care accessible and affordable for all. For expecting or new parents – and all those who care for and support them – establishing a support network, setting realistic expectations and practicing compassion is key to coping with the lifestyle adjustments that come with parenthood. Together, we can open the conversation on mental health and ensure all can find the care they need and deserve.
About the Author
Elizabeth Dosoretz, LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker and mother of three. Her personal journey through the challenges of postpartum depression inspired her to establish Elite DNA Behavioral Health in 2013 with a goal to provide accessible, affordable mental health care to everyone. Ten years later, Elite DNA has become one of the largest mental health providers in the state, providing in-person and virtual behavioral health services to children, adolescents and adults at more than 30 locations across Florida. For more information, visit EliteDNA.com.
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