Reducing the Stigma of Maternal Mental Health Disorders


May is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month. It’s a month to raise awareness for postpartum depression and anxiety and just how prevalent it is—One in seven! It’s a month to educate people about postpartum PTSD and that you CAN in fact be traumatized by your birth. It’s also an opportunity to let our community know that some women are at a higher risk for developing postpartum psychosis (a personal or family history of bipolar disorder increases her risk). Many are surprised to know that up to 80% of new moms experience the baby blues, it’s that common! Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs) are the number one complication of pregnancy. 

Advocates are hopeful that by normalizing the prevalence of maternal mental health disorders, more women will understand the differences between the baby blues and postpartum depression. Greater awareness will help people detect when “something’s not right”— with me, my wife, my sister, my daughter, and hopefully lead to more screenings for prenatal and postpartum depression and anxiety. It's estimated that less than 50% of women struggling with a PMAD seek treatment, despite the fact that they're extremely treatable with professional help. Some reports estimate as few as 15% of women who struggle seek treatment, though it's difficult to know for sure since shame and stigma prevent many from reaching out. 

There are many ways to support the mental health of women and their families during the childbearing years. Below are 5 ways that you can help reduce the stigma of maternal mental health disorders and advocate for greater awareness in our community.

5 Ways to Advocate for Maternal Mental Health 

  1. Join your local chapter of Postpartum Support International. In San Diego, our chapter is called the Postpartum Health Alliance. I’m proud to volunteer my time as the Outreach Co-Chair and serve as a warmline volunteer. There are loads of ways to help build awareness and educate your community through your local organization.
  2. Display a Blue Dot—the new national symbol for Maternal Mental Health. You can purchase your magnet or sticker here. Not only are you supporting this important cause with your financial contribution, but you’re letting those around you know that you’re an aware and concerned citizen; It’s a conversation starter that will let more people know about PMADS and the risks to moms and babies who go untreated. 
  3. Write letters to congress in support of the Bringing Postpartum Depression Out of the Shadows Act of 2015! That will provide grants for screening and treatment for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. 
  4. Participate in your local Climb Out of the Darkness hike in June to raise awareness of maternal mental health disorders. These events are coordinated by local volunteers through Postpartum Progress. To join San Diego’s hike, contact Julie Thorpe
  5. Don’t forget to ask the mothers you love and care for about their mental health: How are you sleeping? How are you eating? How are you feeling? If you're not sure how to address someone you think is struggling, this article provides some helpful strategies. 

If you suspect that you or someone you love has a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder, reach out for help today. Rachel Rabinor, LCSW is a psychotherapist in private practice; she helps women struggling with their transition to and through motherhood in her San Diego office. She also offers in-home counseling and Walk and Talk Therapy. For resources outside of San Diego, contact your local chapter of Postpartum Support International.