Postpartum Depression: Putting Together the Pieces of the Puzzle

IU Health Arnett recently launched a new support group to help mothers suffering from Perinatal Mood Anxiety – it is one piece of a larger puzzle that helps aid in behavioral health for women.

She was tired. She was angry. She lashed out.

But Amy Emerson didn’t feel comfortable talking about her feelings within her circle of family and friends.

“Sometimes you think people will judge you or worry about you. At the time I didn’t have a lot of friends who were mothers. I didn’t have a lot of people who could understand that I was overwhelmed,” said Emerson. She had just had her first child, Mason, a March baby. A former teacher, Emerson was staying home to care for her son. The days were long. She felt isolated. She talked to her mom and her husband, James, but the talks were not the same as sharing with other new moms.

“Before I had my son, I was diagnosed with depression. I knew I was at a high risk for depression but they said to wait two weeks to see if it kicks in after the baby was born,” said Emerson.

In fact, Emerson was suffering from postpartum depression. She turned to a support group at IU Health North where she surrounded herself with other new moms – also coping with similar symptoms.

“Research shows one in seven women will develop postpartum depression and one in 10 fathers will develop postpartum depression,” said Rosa Banuelos, a social worker on the mother-baby floor at IU Health Arnett. The hospital recently received a $5,600 grant from IU Health Foundation to launch a similar support group for women and new mothers suffering from Perinatal Mood Anxiety Disorder (PMAD).   

Symptoms of PMAD include tearfulness, inability to sleep; little or no energy; feelings of guilt or shame; and suicidal thoughts. New mothers are referred to the program by caregivers who administer a simple question and answer test the “Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale” (EPDS). Patients rate their feelings from the previous seven days on a scale that includes: “Most of the time” or “Not at all.” They are asked to respond to such comments as “I have been able to laugh and see the funny side of things,” or “I have felt sad and miserable.”

One question is “The thought of harming myself has occurred to me” – quite often, sometimes, hardly ever, never. “Any mom who scores 12 or above receives an automatic consult with a social worker,” said Banuelos, one of the facilitators for the Arnett group. And if a mom scores more than a zero (never) on the question of thoughts of harming herself, then there is automatic cause for concern, said Banuelos.

The Arnett group began meeting in mid-January. It meets the first and third Friday of the month from 10 a.m. to noon at the hospital and is open to all mothers.

“The purpose is to bring mothers together who are suffering from mental health emotions during or after pregnancy,” said Banuelos. “They are in a safe and supportive environment with other women who understand what they are going through. We’re just a piece of the puzzle to wellness, a way to help them understand that they are not alone and there is nothing to be ashamed of. If mothers hear that message they can start the road to recovery. There are many pieces to that puzzle – family support, community support – all important pieces.”

The support group is ongoing and mothers can attend a few times or as often as they wish.

Emerson attended the support group for a year when her son was born. Last August she had a second child – a girl – and she again attended the support group. “The group makes you feel not so abnormal – you know that there are other women going through it with you. And the group facilitator helps explain the feelings and dispel the things society stigmatizes. People think because you have a new baby you should be happy all the time but sometimes there are feelings beyond your control,” said Emerson, 34.  

“You are dealing with so many issues – your body is changing and you can’t always exercise, you can’t get enough sleep, you are breastfeeding and sometimes it’s difficult – it’s just great to have other moms that say, ‘I get it.’”

— By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
   Reach Banes via email