There’s a new ad campaign meant to raise awareness about postpartum depression, and it’s stirring the pot.
As a prenatal and postpartum educator, and someone who personally suffers with depression, I’ve been sitting with this one and, honestly, I’m having a hard time deciding how I feel about it. Help me out, here?
The Silence Sucks campaign was created by a biopharmaceutical company called Sage Therapeutics. They recently announced that a new experimental drug treatment they’re developing to treat postpartum depression (PPD), brexanolone, showed positive results in a recent clinical trial. The ad campaign doesn’t mention the drug because it still needs to go through some more testing before it can get FDA approval. Instead, the campaign is meant to raise awareness about PPD.
The ads feature close-ups of women crying, with a baby pacifier in their mouths. The copy reads, “When it comes to postpartum depression, Silence Sucks. PPD is the most common medical complication of childbirth. That’s worth a conversation – for you and your baby.”
Reaction to the campaign has been mixed. Some see it as a good thing because it’s raising awareness about this pervasive mental illness. On the other hand, critics take issue with the campaign, saying that not only does it infantilize women suffering with a serious condition, but it puts the onus on them to speak up, instead of asking the medical community to be proactive.
Both perspectives make sense to me, so I’m digging in a little more to break it down.
- Raising awareness about postpartum depression is always a good thing and leads to its destigmatization, and to more proactive action by the medical community. In turn, this leads to more people getting treated. In my prenatal course curriculum, I dedicate a portion of time during the postpartum segment to talk about postpartum and anxiety to both birth mothers and partners. I talk about its prevalence, the difference with PPA/PPD and normal baby blues, when to seek help and how, and offer my availability at any time to help connect them to resources.
- Although I realize this is not necessarily relevant to the argument, I do love that the campaign includes a range of women of different ethnicities.
- Um, the pacifier. My gut response to seeing the ads was ‘Wait, what? Are they suggesting that women are babies for having PPD?’ I get that they are trying to connect the depression directly with having a baby but surely there is a better way.
- Still with the pacifier – If an important part of raising awareness about PPD is to help destigmatize it, and I argue that it is, then I think this strategy could backfire is a big way. Women who suffer from PPD often deny it and hide it because they feel shame and guilt for not being happy. Add to that a bus driving past with an ad that shows a woman with PPD and a pacifier in her mouth, and I think it could very well make someone feel worse — not motivated to speak up.
Related: The Stigma of Depression Can Bite Me
I agree that professionals in prenatal and postpartum industries need to take on the bulk of the responsibility. Unless women (and men, because they can get PDD too) are being educated, then there is a very good chance people will continue to feel shame and keep quiet. Yes, it is important for people suffering with PPD to speak up to get help, but this only works as a strategy if people are aware that it is an illness, that it is not shameful, and that it can be treated. It is up to professionals to help spread the word.
So, maybe the questions are: Does raising awareness beat out the negatives of this campaign? Or, is this imagery making things worse? What do you think?