Why Treat Postpartum Depression?

I felt compelled to address this topic after the intense media coverage in January regarding a study that showed that depressed patients with mild symptoms did not do any better with medication than patients treated with a placebo; further inferring that people with “mild” depression do not need to seek treatment.

Then I asked myself, what is mild depression? Isn’t mild depression still depression? Every time I heard this on the radio, the news, read it online, or printed in the newspaper, I found myself sitting there, jaw-dropped, thinking, “oh my goodness this news could be SO damaging to those people who truly need medication to treat their depression.”

Obviously because of my profession I immediately thought of the moms out there who already have a tendency to wait to reach out for treatment, who conceal how they are really feeling inside because of stigma associated with mental illness, fear of the unknown or the belief that they just have the “baby blues” even when they are already 4-5 weeks postpartum or longer. Here it was blazing in the headlines….another reason for mothers to not reach out for help for their PPD. Now, this is not to say that everyone with PPD needs medication, every woman is different. Some do well, and recover with a support group and/or individual therapy, or other alternative treatments, but a large number of women benefit greatly from treatment with medication.

One thing we know is that the sooner PPD is recognized and treated the sooner a mother can begin to feel like herself and start enjoying her new role and her new baby. Another thing that always stands out in my mind is that untreated depression or postpartum depression can lead to long-term, chronic major depression. The February 2010 edition of the journal Psychiatric Services included a study that found that four years after seeing a physician for mild depression symptoms, and having a positive screen for depression, 62% of those who did NOT seek treatment (medication and/or therapy), ended up with major depression.

These findings were just another reminder to me of how fortunate we are that Beaumont Hospital believes that PPD is real and serious, and supports our mission that all mothers receive education about PPD signs, symptoms and risk factors and that they have access to free support. The moral of this story: our mental health needs and deserves just as much attention as our physical health. Don’t wait to reach out for help if you need it, and encourage others in your life to get the support they need.

– Kelly C. Ryan, MSW

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