Just last April, The Junior Leagues of California’s State Public Affairs Committee (SPAC), working with Assembly Member Pedro Nava (D-Santa Barbara), sponsored Assembly Concurrent REsolution 105 (ACR 104) to designate the month of May as “Perinatal Depression Awareness Month” in California. On behalf of mothers and mothers-to-be everywhere, this is tremendously uplifting news. The fact that this is only our first month honoring Perinatal Depression Awareness Month means that there is still much more work to be done.
Perinatal depression refers to the different mood disorders that affects a woman during pregnancy and after the birth of her child. A woman can be depressed before birth, after birth, or both. This is not at all a rare or unusual occurrence that only affects a slim percentage of all mothers; up to 20 percent of all women experience pregnancy-related depression or anxiety, which means that 1 in 5 pregnant women are affected by perinatal depression. Though the birth of a new life is usually a cause for celebration and joy, the fact of the matter is that many women feel depressed, overwhelmed, have sleep problems, experience feelings of inadequacy and guilt and a host of other physical and mental health problems that compromises her sense of happiness and well-being.
Why does perinatal depression need more awareness and attention from all of us? Depression in itself is a mental health issue that still carries a heavy stigma in this society. When this depression is experienced by a new mother, many women are afraid to seek help for fear, denial or a sense of shame that this sense of depression is a sign that they are not being a good mother from their inability to experience joy for their newborn child. Moreover, many women who are uninsured, underinsured or lack access to comprehensive health care simply do not have the financial resources to seek the treatment that they desperately need. It is not surprising then, that 80% of perinatal depression cases go undiagnosed and untreated.
This is not just a mom issue, but a human issue. When we are silent on the issue of perinatal depression, we are harming our entire society. When we fail to take care of our mothers in need of mental help, we are failing the children of our community. Untreated perinatal depression can adversely affect a newborn child’s natural development, and these harmful effects can last a lifetime. When we are failing the children of our community, we are preemptively undermining the potential of an entire generation of youth.
Even if you are not a mother yourself, there are many things you can do to ensure that our society is no longer silent on the issue of perinatal depression. Earlier this month, the Junior Leagues of California SPAC introduced a Perinatal Depression awareness campaign called “Speak Up When You’re Down.” You can click here (http://www.ajli.org/ama/orig/SpeakUpWhenYoureDown.zip) to download campaign materials which include posters, palm cards and flyers, and make sure that these materials are available at your local community centers, schools, daycare centers and other public spaces. Even simply asking a new mother you know how she is feeling–and bringing up the issue of perinatal depression–can bring tremendous impact in decreasing its stigma.
In celebration of our first Perinatal Depression Awareness Month I want invite all of you take a moment to imagine a society where there are no stigmas attached to women experiencing perinatal depression. Imagine a society where a new mother who is feeling unusually sad or anxious will immediately know that what she is experiencing is not unusual. Rather than blaming herself and hiding her inexplicable sadness, she would feel empowered by her knowledge to seek help–through caring mental health professionals, through online support groups, through outreach programs available in every community, through fellow mothers who know exactly what she is going through. Rather than facing this extremely isolating experience alone, this new mother would find allies everywhere and would receive unconditional support from an entire community that knows how to give help when it is desperately needed.