April 14, 2016
Popular awareness of postpartum depression has improved tremendously in recent years. Obstetricians now regularly screen patients for post-delivery symptoms of sadness and anxiety, and depressive illness in new parents is discussed in thousands of books, articles, support groups, and online forums.
Yet there has been no such growth in public understanding of prenatal depression. Though studies show that depression during pregnancy is just as common, and equally dangerous, many newly pregnant women are unaware that it is even a possibility. Conditioned to believe that pregnancy should be a joyful period, depressed expectant mothers may avoid seeking help, or find that their feelings are trivialized or stigmatized by partners and friends. Many obstetricians and psychiatrists remain reluctant to prescribe antidepressants to pregnant patients, even as suicide has become one of the leading causes of death among pregnant women and new mothers. And in the United States, a pregnant woman who survives a suicide attempt may find herself receiving, not support and psychiatric treatment, but a murder charge.
What can be done to ease the damaging guilt, shame, and stigma surrounding depression during pregnancy? Could ideals of maternal sacrifice be impeding the protection of some of our communities' most vulnerable mothers?