Postpartum Depression: A Silent Epidemic – Winter 2010

Break the Silence: Join the discussion about postpartum depression online, hosted by PPD survivor Kristin Davis ’88, by using the comment section below.

Get PPD Information and Support: Visit the postpartum depression blogs written by Ivy Shih Leung ’86 ( and Kristin Davis ’88 (

Get the Facts About PPD

  • Approximately one in eight new mothers experiences PPD.
  • Approximately eight of ten new mothers experience the “baby blues.”
  • Only about one-third of those suffering from PPD will be diagnosed and only 22 percent will be adequately treated.1
  • PPD refers to a spectrum of disorders that includes:

– Postpartum panic disorder: Occurs in up to 11 percent of women following childbirth2

– Postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder: Occurs in approximately 3–5 percent of women following childbirth3

– Postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder: Occurs in approximately 1–6 percent of women following childbirth 4

–  Postpartum psychosis: Occurs in approximately 1.1–4 of every 1,000 deliveries. There is a 10 percent infanticide/suicide rate associated with PPP, which is why immediate treatment is crucial.5


1 Templeton, Hilda, PSI conference, 2006

2 Postpartum Support Int’l Factsheet

3 Postpartum Support Int’l Factsheet

4 Beck, C. 2004. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Due to Childbirth, the Aftermath. Nursing Research 53(4):216-224.

5 Gaynes et al., 2005

Recent PPD Headline-Making Developments

  • 2001: Andrea Yates, stricken with postpartum psychosis, drowns her five children
  • 2005: Brooke Shields’ book about her experience with PPD, Down Came the Rain, and Tom Cruise’s subsequent assertion that chemical imbalances don’t exist
  • 2006: New Jersey became the first state to pass a law requiring licensed health care providers (MDs, nurses) to educate women and their families about PPD, screen new mothers for PPD, and establish a statewide perinatal mental health referral network, including the creation of a 24-hour hotline
  • 2006-present: Senator Menendez (D-NJ) sponsored the controversial Melanie Blocker Stokes MOTHERS Act. For the bill’s text and more information, visit


Spread the Word About PPD

Too many women today still suffer unnecessarily in silence due to:

    • Lack of public awareness/educational initiatives
    • Misdiagnoses of doctors due to failure to distinguish PPD from the blues
    • Lack of awareness of PPD symptoms
    • Lack of PPD screening of new mothers before they leave the hospital
    • Lack of awareness within medical community of the full scope/complexity of perinatal mood disorders (e.g., perinatal OCD, psychosis, PTSD, anxiety disorder, etc.)
    • Societal misconceptions (e.g., insomnia, a classic symptom of PPD, is merely sleep deprivation and fatigue that all new moms experience, and having a panic attack is the same thing as anxiety that comes from difficulties in transitioning to motherhood and being a first-time mom)
    • Societal stigma related to mental illness
    • Motherhood myths (e.g., myth of the “super mom,” breastfeeding, bonding, etc.)



9 responses to “Postpartum Depression: A Silent Epidemic – Winter 2010”

  1. Jill Green says:

    I was diagnosed with ppd, but looking back, it was definitely post partum panic disorder. I did not know how to stop panic attacks, so I enlisted the help of my doctor, who put me on an SSRI and a benzodiazepine. Even thought I had medications, I still suffered greatly through this time. And all the while feeling I shouldn't be so sad or panicked.

  2. Saddles says:

    Misdiagnoses of doctors due to failure to distinguish PPD from the blues.

  3. Janne Debes says:

    I didn't really have depression. I had horrible anxiety and feared I would harm my child. I had visions of myself harming her. Talk about terror. My doctor prescribed Valium 5 mg, to take as necessary. Perhaps once a week I would take half. I derived comfort and security from possessing that little bottle of pills. The anxiety began lifting after about 3 months. My husband knew all about it. It was extremely reassuring for me that he wasn't alarmed and simply was incredibly sweet, kind, and helpful. When I told him a year later that I was pregnant again and would have to terminate the pregnancy out of fear, he backed me 100%. I can't imagine the horrible isolation for someone suffering emotions like these ALONE, in a communication vacuum. And I was a nurse at the time, educated, professional. My mother was a psych nurse and had talked about a friend of hers who had smothered her baby in the midst of her postpartum “blues”. Hah. “Blues” indeed! I watched my girls like a hawk after their pregnancies, fearing that I might have passed along some horrid gene to them, but no. Smooth sailing for them, other than the usual amazing life-changes that come with new motherhood.

  4. Janne Debes says:

    I had horrible PPD after baby #1, so that when I got pregnant again a year later, I was terrified and had an abortion. And I was married long before either pregnancy. The first was a desired child. I later had baby #2 and was ready for it and was ok.

  5. Diane Giombetti Clue says:

    Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for this article, ladies – I’m a PPD survivor, having battled it after the birth of my only child in 2000. My PPD hit me like a brick wall, and I knew almost immediately that something wasn’t right with me. I just couldn’t figure out what it was. The most tragic thing about PPD is the shame and isolation and ignorance that go with it. I had no idea that PPD even existed. All I knew is that I was no longer me.
    I couldn’t sleep, yet was exhausted all the time. The insomnia was terrifying. I worried about everything. I couldn’t string a coherent sentence together (and I was an English major at MHC and a freelance writer at the time of my son’s birth). I began to experience panic attacks and anxiety attacks within a few days of my son’s arrival. Then the diarrhea/stomach cramps and headaches started. I kept all the curtains closed in our house and only left to take my son to his well-baby checkups. I didn’t drive for nearly two months after his birth because I simply couldn’t handle the stress of getting behind the wheel of a car. My husband or family member had to drive.
    I stopped answering the phone because I couldn’t bear speaking with my friends, who were all happy, fulfilled, well adjusted moms. The only reason my family members made it into the house after my son’s birth is that they had spare keys. I cried constantly and questioned my ability to parent. I became dependent on my husband, who had a very demanding job that required lots of long-distance travel. I dreaded the mornings of his business trips, and he was so worried about me that he checked in on me almost every hour – even if there was a family member visiting me. He even hired a home health aid to perform basic household chores so that I could concentrate on taking care of the baby and myself. Even that was too much for me.
    The most simple things threw me into a tailspin: writing thank-you letters for baby gifts, figuring out what to make for dinner, wondering how I could possibly eat a sandwich. My weight plummeted and I lost my appetite.
    I felt incredibly alone – my friends and family had no idea what was wrong with me, and I was afraid to tell them. The only person I told was my husband and my ob/gyn. My ob/gyn literally saved my life. At my son’s two-week well baby visit, I managed to catch her in her office and told her how I’d been feeling since my son’s birth. Finally, I dropped the big bomb: I told her that I had been thinking about hurting myself and “checking out.” I really thought my baby, husband, family and friends would be better off without me.
    My ob/gyn immediately got me on an antidepressant and coordinated a meeting between her, my son’s pediatrician, and my immediate family members. She referred me to a psychotherapist who specialized in PPD patients. A week later, I was feeling even worse and hanging on by a thread. I voluntarily checked myself into the psychiatric ward of a local hospital for a three-day inpatient program and then a three-day outpatient program. Intensive antidepressant treatment and twice-, then once-weekly therapy sessions followed.
    My son will be 10 in April and it took a long time to become myself again. I stayed on antidepressants for more than five years. I still see a therapist, although now it’s only once a month. I still feel guilty about not being mentally there for my baby in his first few months.
    As horrible as my story was, I was lucky, because I had an ob/gyn who was proactive and a husband who believed that I had more than the baby blues. I had supportive family and friends (once they understood I had PPD). But I am very angry about the whole experience – if there had been information available about PPD during my pregnancy, I wouldn’t have suffered at all. All these years later, I still feel like PPD is treated like a dirty secret.
    I’ll never forget what one of the psychiatric hospital staff said to me during my inpatient stay. I had just finished describing myself as a high-energy, competitive, control freak, overachieving, oldest child who’d graduated second in her high-school class and then went on to thrive in and graduate from Mount Holyoke and start her own freelancing business. The counselor gave me a sad smile and said, “Honey, you were hard-wired for this.”
    If only I’d known that BEFORE my son was born.
    I hope your article helps bring more awareness to this awful illness. Nobody in this day and age should suffer in silence.

  6. Kristin Lagerquist '04 says:

    Thank you ever so much for publishing this article. My battle with PPD began very shortly after the birth of my son a year ago. The hardest part of the fight was convincing those around me that my depression was very real and not the result of “baby blues” or exhaustion. Even with a severe postpartum depression/postpartum psychosis diagnosis from my ob/gyn, a psychologist, and a reproductive psychiatrist, many family members could not grasp that someone like me — intelligent, hard-working, strong-willed, independent — would or even could succumb to this depression “label.” They said I'd just need to get over it. I wish I had this article last March for my vindication and their education.

    Davis and Leung's article will be making its way to my family and friends to prove that, yes, strong women can and do suffer from reproductive mental illness. We can't merely snap out of it, but we can recover.

  7. I really hope that we can raise awareness on this important issue. One of the challenges I see is that the person suffering is often the last to recognize that they have a problem. This leaves it up to their doctors, friends and family to make the diagnosis and sadly, too many just slip through the gaps.

    • kristindavis says:

      I completely agree with you, Lisa!

      While I was pregnant with my fourth baby, and so determined not to repeat the horrendous, life-threatening PPD I experienced with my third, I set up a support system that included my husband, cousin, aunt, a close friend and my therapist. They were all on alert to look for symptoms following the birth, and were great about checking up on me. I'd also let my neighbors know that I was at risk for developing PPD again, and they were extraordinary about coming by with an occasional casserole or to see if they could help with my older kids, running errands, etc. Just knowing they were all there was such a tremendous help emotionally. I ended up having a wonderful, almost Hallmark-y kind of postpartum experience with my fourth baby, which was what I'd dreamed of since becoming a mom.

      I think the key here is education — making sure that pregnant women AND their families and friends know about the possibility of PPD. It does take a village, no matter how strong of a superwoman you may be….

  8. kristindavis says:

    I'd like to welcome you to this online discussion on postpartum depression. Even though I suffered from PPD nearly fourteen years ago, sadly, this topic remains as relevant today as it was in 1996. Back then, once I had recovered, I assumed that within a few years we would see an end to PPD since it is treatable as well as preventable. Sadly, we still have a long way to go.

    I'm interested in hearing other women's stories of their postpartum experiences and feel that this is a good place to share our perspectives. An opportunity to have a conversation on a mental health topic such as PPD can be a breath of fresh air for women who otherwise might let their voices be heard. It also helps to clear away the stigma that continues to shroud PPD.

    If you'd like to share your PPD story, ask questions or simply take part in the conversation, please feel free to chime in.

    Warmest regards,