Postpartum depression is getting a lot of press these days. Sparked in part by Chrissy Tiegans’s touching article in Glamour Magazine about her own struggles with postpartum depression, there have been a lot of celebrities opening up about their experiences with PPD, and a lot more mainstream articles written about the subject. Additionally two documentaries (When the Bough Breaks and Dark Side of the Full Moon) were recently released which focus on the topic.

You know the expression “all press is good press.” Well to a large extent that is true. We need to be having a national conversation about postpartum depression. We need to normalize and de-stigmatize the topic. We need to share stories, we need to empower ourselves with information, and we need to educate educate providers. We need to bring this disorder which affects 15% –20% of the perinatal population out of the darkness.

And yet here is the problem. The media is subject to numerous biases in reporting and representation which profoundly impact the stories that are told.  This means we have an inaccurate, incomplete, and at times harmful reporting on postpartum depression. Here are some problems I’ve noticed

  • Where are the people of color? 
    • In weeding through the numerous stories and celebrity disclosures that have come out over the past few months, it is notable how few stories there are about women of color. Of course this is reflective both of media bias at large, and also bias in Hollywood where women of color are underrepresented.
      • This is a HUGE problem as statistics tell us that women of color are far more likely to experience postpartum depression, and much less likely to get screened or received treatment.
      • This lack of representation contributes significantly to this problem in that women of color may not know their risks and may not seek help. Women of color need to see their stories reflected and their experiences represented!
  • Why are postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis conflated? 
    • Although there has been some improvement in recent media coverage, historically there has been a serious conflation of postpartum psychosis (a rare disorder affecting 0.1-0.2%) and postpartum depression. Furthermore, the coverage has focussed significantly on women who have harmed their babies. There are a lot of problems here.
      • Although postpartum psychosis is incredibly serious and needs to be treated as an emergency, the vast majority of people who experience it do not hurt their babies. We do not want to deter people from getting help or to feel further stigmatized out of fear about their children being removed from them.
      •  Postpartum psychosis and postpartum depression are distinct disorders. Conflating the two may lead women with depression to fear getting help due to additional stigma or out of a belief that they couldn’t possibly be suffering because their symptoms don’t match those of psychosis.
      • There is serious racial bias in this reporting in that I saw an overrepresentation of stories about women of color who had harmed their babies or who were incarcerated.
  • Why are all the stories about cis-gendered and/or heterosexual women?
    • The way the media tells it, postpartum depression only happens to white, straight, cis-gender women. Of course this not the case! Postpartum depression and other perinatal mood/anxiety disorders occur in dads, in partners, in GLBT couples, in trans moms and dads, and in adoptive parents. We need to hear these stories too!
  • What about other perinatal mood and anxiety disorders?
    • Postpartum depression is just one of several mood and anxiety disorders that can occur during pregnancy and the postpartum period. I’ve written about this issue numerous times . When we don’t talk about the risks factors during pregnancy, when we don’t explain that anxiety, OCD, PTSD, and psychosis are all part of the spectrum of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADS) people do not know their risks, do not understand their symptoms, and do not get adequate support.

Bottom line we need accurate, inclusive, unbiased representation and information. With that in mind, I plan to feature more information and hopefully more first first person accounts of women and men who have experienced perinatal mood and anxiety disorders whose voices are underrepresented. If you have a story to tell, I want to hear it and help you tell it here on my blog.