First introduced in 2015, the Bringing Postpartum Depression Out of the Shadows Act has been passed by the U.S. House. The bill will now go on to the Senate for consideration.
Pregnancy, childbirth, and lactation are a unique time in a woman’s life. Charged with an overwhelm of hormones and undergoing major shifts in our identity, we are perhaps at our most vulnerable and impressionable in our lifetime. It is a delicate time as we get to know our bodies in a whole new way, bring forth life, and come into the realization that we are wholly responsible for that new life.
That is heavy.
It’s no wonder that 1 in 7 women struggle with the transition into new motherhood to a degree that they need to find treatment for postpartum depression and other mood disorders. Luckily, we live in an age where treatments can be very effectively — 90% of postpartum depression cases are treatable — if we can understand that we need the help.
That’s the thing about postpartum mood disorders. The brain chemistry is a little off, so the person feeling a little down, a little too anxious, a little (or a lot) off doesn’t necessarily realize that her perceptions are atypical. She isn’t going to necessarily know that she needs to reach out for help — and even if she does understand this, she may not know exactly where to go.
Our healthcare system has come a long ways in how it addresses perinatal and postnatal depression, but there are still wide gaps. Those gaps are what HR 3235, introduced in July 2015 by Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), is designed to fill.
HR 3235, Bringing Postpartum Depression Out of the Shadows Act of 2015, would amend the Public Health Service Act to authorize the issuance of grants to states for depression screening and treatment programs for women who are pregnant or are up to 12 months postpartum. Priority would be programs within a primary health care setting.
The idea, it appears, would be that finding help for feeling a little off, mood-wise, while pregnant or postpartum would be as easy as going to the doctor’s office — as it should be.
The U.S. House passed HR 3235 on November 30 of this year. Rep. Clark released this statement via Twitter:
“No mom should feel alone while suffering from the pain, isolation, and frustration that comes with postpartum depression. The health and success of families include — and begin with — the whole health of our moms. The passage of the Bringing Postpartum Depression Out of the Shadows Act means we’re taking active steps to break down the stigmas that have kept moms from getting the care they need and deserve.”
The bill will now go on to the Senate for consideration.
If you’ve never experienced perinatal or postpartum depression, or known anyone who has admitted she has dealt with it, it may be difficult to see how momentous this bill has the potential to be. Because mental health continues to be so easily stigmatized, however, you may not know if even your closest friends have struggled with a perinatal or postpartum mood disorder, which can include depression, anxiety, even psychosis and just about everything in between. I’m guessing you know more mothers who’ve battled through a bout of depression than you think. In this time of life that is romanticized as being the “happiest time of a woman’s life,” mothers can hide their emotional pain very well.
To illustrate this point, many amazing motherhood photographers have released soul-baring projects to show what real motherhood looks like, and this includes the struggles of a perinatal or postpartum mood disorder. Perhaps my favorite of all time, so far, is this post from Postpartum Progress. Really take in that first quote:
“…You can’t tell by looking, but just hours before this picture was taken, I tried to kill myself. …And hour after this picture was taken, I got up on stage and performed for a church talent show like everything was fine.”
This is what the stigma of postpartum depression does to mothers. They don’t feel safe to open up or to seek support, if they recognize they need it, and they’re putting on a smile out in public or with visitors, and going home wanting to die. Not only is this incredibly uncomfortable for a mother to deal with, but her partner and children suffer, too. Marriages strain, and babies grow up with mothers who aren’t caring for them as well as they could be — if screening for and treating perinatal and postpartum depression was as commonplace at this point in their lives as listening for baby’s heart beat at each health care appointment, as proposed by the ACOG.
This is what Rep. Clark and others know, probably from first-hand experience, and are working to address. This is why a bill like HR 3235 is so important. Contact your U.S. Senator to urge him or her to support the bill.