Dear Postpartum-Depression Deniers,
Marianne Williamson, I’m mostly talking to you, but there are people like you everywhere. What do I mean by “people like you?” I mean self-proclaimed experts who spew nonsense about mental illness.
Recently, you wrote in a comment on your Facebook page that “The [postpartum depression] disease is not inside the woman; the disease is inside a system so based on greed that it does not honor parents’ need to remain with their children long enough after birth.” That comment was one of many that resulted following your Facebook post a day earlier, in which you said that hormonal and mood changes during and after pregnancy are normal and suggested meditation, prayer, and love as remedies. Guess what? Waking up and thinking about harming yourself or your baby is not normal.
It’s true that mood and hormonal changes are commonplace. Scores of women suffer mood changes, intrusive thoughts, and other distressing symptoms after they give birth. Just as creating a brand-new tiny human is commonplace, so is mental illness. Creating a tiny human, however, is an incredibly special experience for each mom—and is unique to each mom. Likewise, even if mood changes are “normal,” they affect each individual mother differently. For some women, those hormonal and mood changes don’t feel normal at all. Postpartum depression can feel like you are trapped in a black pit of hopelessness, despair, alienation, and disappointment.
Even if prayer, meditation, and love worked for you, they might be woefully inadequate for others who are suffering. Many people suffering from mental illnesses, including postpartum depression, feel a deep sense of shame and avoid seeking help. Your suggestion that prayer and meditation could be a cure heightens that sense of shame. If prayer and meditation don’t work, does that mean those women aren’t doing it right? Prayer and meditation become another source of failure and disappointment.
Caring for a newborn alone is a daunting task. Couple that with depression, and life quickly can become overwhelming. Moms already prioritize the health and well-being of others before their own. Women should feel free to seek mental-health care from a medical or mental-health professional. You just added a layer of shame to that process.
Your attitudes are reckless and presumptuous. Not everyone meditates. Not everyone prays. Not everyone has external sources of love and acceptance. Just because that works for you doesn’t mean you have to impose your worldview and belief system on everyone else. Some people are open to taking medication. Some people trust their doctors and view them as a source of help and not the cause of postpartum depression as you suggest.
Redefining a painful disorder and blaming it on unfounded conspiracy theories about the medical system is irresponsible. Your attempt to “help” just did a lot of damage.
If you’re reading this and think you might have postpartum depression, there is no shame in getting help. And if you want to try meditation and prayer, there’s nothing wrong with you if you also want to get help from a real professional. You are brave for doing that, not unenlightened or uninformed.
Danielle Bostick, a former Solo Mom and ESME’s Wellness–Mental Health Resource Guide, is a Latin teacher, an advocate, and a mom to six kids in Winchester, Virginia. When not working as an educator, Bostick writes about the National Football League for various sites and sexual assault and child sexual abuse for the Huffington Post. You can find her on Twitter: @danibostick, and on Facebook: Dani Bostick.
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