Mercy Addresses Postpartum Depression

Jun 13, 2014

Newborn Baby

A new program being implemented by Mercy Health System is designed to catch postpartum depression in women.  And health experts hope it will lead to more women getting treatment.  KSMU’s Michele Skalicky has more.

Springfield mom and Mercy employee Kim Crist had a difficult pregnancy.  And when she finally went into labor it lasted 36 hours.  She thinks that’s what led to her developing postpartum depression after her daughter was born.

"About ten days in I was basically not able to function.  I really had a hard time just doing the basic responsibilities of caring for a child.  I was not able to get around.  I wasn't able to have a great relationship with her.  I just noticed I was detaching from her.  I couldn't even take a shower.  I couldn't get dressed.  It got to the point where I just really  got into almost a manic depression," she said.

Fortunately, her neighbor noticed the signs and called Crist’s husband.  That led to Crist being hospitalized for three days where she began the healing process. After six months in what she describes as a fog, she finally began to feel like herself again.

Crist is pleased to see Mercy implementing a screening for PPD so that others won’t have to suffer in silence. 

Mercy brought in a nationally-known speaker on postpartum depression this week to talk about the best practices for PPD screening as well as the current theories on why some women suffer.

Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill says PPD affects one in eight of all women who give birth, and it can have devastating consequences for mothers, their children and other family members.

She says 70 percent of women who have an uneventful pregnancy will have a normal hormonal reaction after giving birth.  But if symptoms interfere with normal functioning, women should seek help.

"If you're not enjoying the baby, if you're not able to sleep even when the baby's sleeping, if you find that worries and thoughts are consuming you and really changing the way you function or interact with others or there is some sort of change in your thinking process, then that is a signal, if that lasts more than a few days, that you really need to get checked out," she said.

She says women often feel reluctant to talk about their depression after having a baby.  By having a pediatrician or OB provider initiate the conversation through a screening, she hopes more new moms will be helped.

"People are worried that they'll be judged as a bad mom or someone will take the baby away, so it's really, with the initative that Mercy  is doing here, is so important important because it helps to normalize it," she said.

That can lead to effect treatment such as lifestyle changes, therapy and medication, which can help women get back on their feet.

Treatment is important, she says, because untreated PPD can lead to a number of problems.

"Moms are generally not as responsive to the baby.  It can impair maternal child attachment.  It leads to neuro developmental changes in the children, increases lifetime risk of the kids for psychiatric illness.  It is the number one cause of maternal suicide--maternal death.  It also causes an enormous amount of marital and family dysfunction if someone is impaired in that way," she said. 

And she says you can’t look at the causes of child abuse and neglect and not factor maternal health into the equation.

Crist knows how devastating PPD can be—she basically lost the first six months with her new baby.  She encourages anyone who might be experiencing PPD to seek help.

"Don't be ashamed of it.  Take the help and then try to help others.  After it happened, we had a support group at Mercy I helped take part in, I mean, I did a lot of things and I want people to know it's ok, and, you know, crying is normal and to never feel like you can't ask for help even if you don't want to," she said.

Mercy will conduct screenings through pediatrician visits at two weeks, two months, four months and six months.  If a screening is positive, the pediatrician will make a referral to the patient’s primary care doctor.  Mercy will then follow up to make sure the patient was seen and will make sure they get help if they need it.

To learn more about postpartum depression and how to seek help,