Recognize the signs of postpartum depression

High school sweethearts Mitchell and Brenda Encarnacion spent the first few years of their marriage filled with excitement before embarking on another adventure. According to Mitchell, Brenda was “eager” for the upcoming baby. “She read all these books. It was like YouTube videos. She made a PowerPoint for me! It was like a full-time job for her,” he said.

In October 2020, Brenda gave birth to their daughter, Evelyn. However, despite all their preparations, there was one thing they did not foresee. “Sometimes, I would find her just crying for no reason,” Mitchell said. “I would always ask her and she would say, ‘Yeah, it’s just hormones.’ She just kept calling it ‘mom’s brain.'”

As a caregiver, Mitchell said he recognized the signs of postpartum depression and encouraged her to see a therapist, but he said things didn’t improve. “She looked different the morning before,” he said. “I saw something was wrong in the look in her eyes.”

That day, Brenda Encarnancion took her own life nine months after giving birth. She is 30 years old.

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Brenda Encarnacion and her daughter Evie. Nine months after giving birth, Brenda took her own life.

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According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, one in seven women in the United States suffers from postpartum depression (PPD). More new mothers die from suicide or drug overdose than from any other cause.

“Their main complaint is, ‘I feel overwhelmed,’ and that really should be a signal for us to dig deeper,” said Dr. Christina Deligiannidis, director of women’s behavioral health at Zacks Hillside Hospital in New York. She studies and treats depression in pregnant and postpartum women.

She said postpartum depression is not “baby blues.” “They all exist, and that’s part of the chaos,” Deligiannidis said. “Postpartum blues is really a normal physiological adaptation to childbirth. So our brains need to reset and sometimes that affects our mood. And it doesn’t last more than two weeks and doesn’t require any treatment at all.”

Postpartum or perinatal depression does no It goes away after two weeks – and the symptoms are usually more severe than just feeling a little sad. “Many women will give up things they once enjoyed,” Deligiannidis said. “They also report feeling drained of energy.”

Postpartum depression is triggered by factors including genetics, stress and hormonal changes. You can actually see it when you look at scans of the brain’s medial prefrontal cortex, which is important for emotion regulation and cognition. “We found that this area is indeed more active and active in women who suffer from postpartum depression compared to women who don’t have any symptoms,” Deligiannidis said. “This proves that postpartum depression is real, and it removes the stigma of postpartum depression.” Not a “real” medical disease.

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Dr. Kristina Deligiannidis shows Tracy Smith a brain scan of the medial prefrontal cortex, an area that shows up when patients suffer from postpartum depression. More activities.

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Lisette Lopez-Ross didn’t need a brain scan to tell her what was wrong. “I like to use the metaphor of a seashell, like a crab shell,” she said. “I feel like, you know, the meat is the baby and it’s picked out and then I’m thrown away. That’s how I really feel.”

In the months after giving birth to her daughter Sybil in November 2020, Lisette began to have suicidal thoughts. But her doctors would never know. “It’s all about the baby and nothing about the mother,” she said. “It was never about how am I doing? So, I never talked to people. I thought if I did, I might be a little more honest.”

She said she was afraid to admit she felt bad. “I’m a woman of color, I’m Latina. If I said something like, ‘I want to end my life,’ I feel like they’re going to take my kids away. That’s my mindset, that’s why I’m being dishonest to reveal how these thoughts affect me.”

Lissette eventually found help and is now sharing her experience on social media in the hope of removing the stigma of postpartum depression.

But experts say only about 6 percent of women diagnosed receive treatment, and thousands more don’t come forward at all. “I think we may be underestimating the population that is suffering,” said Joy Burkhard, executive director of the Center for Maternal Mental Health Policy.

The reason so many women are overlooked, she said, is because in the United States, women are often bounced from one health care provider to another. “Our system does not hold any one provider accountable for maternal mental health disorders,” Burkhard said. “The issue really is accountability. Who is responsible for identifying and developing some treatment plans to support women?”

Traditional treatments like antidepressants take time, and new mothers don’t have that time. But starting this week, moms may have another option: FDA-approved new drug Zurzuvaethe first drug specifically designed to treat postpartum depression.

Dr. Deligiannidis conducted a trial and said taking the drug for 14 days provided almost immediate relief. She said the rapid response gave her goosebumps: “It’s a little unreal. We just weren’t trained to think our therapy could work so quickly.”

The total price of the treatment is about $16,000, and it’s unclear if or how much insurance will cover. There are other unknowns; Deligiannidis said the drug should not be taken while breastfeeding: “We just don’t have the data because it’s not out yet. We don’t know if there will be an effect on the baby. Over time, we’ll get, you know, Know, information to help breastfeeding patients make these decisions.”

But experts like Joy Burkhard say it’s a reason for hope: “It’s a game changer. But what we don’t want to lose sight of is that women still need support. We need birth control pills, but we need more .”

Mitchail Encarnacion enjoys sharing happy memories with his daughter, Evie. But he’s also willing to talk about the painful stuff, hoping that by looking back he can encourage more women suffering from postpartum depression to come forward.

“I didn’t think this would happen to me,” he said. “I didn’t expect this to happen to such happy people. If these people knew, they would still have their mum. Because now all Evie has is a picture of her.”

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Brenda Encarnacion and her daughter Evie.

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Story by Sarah Kugel. Editor: Carol Ross.


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If you or someone you know is in emotional distress or suicidal crisis, you can contact 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline Call or text 988.You can also Chat with the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline here.

For more information Mental Health Care Resources and SupportThe National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline is available Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Eastern Time at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or email info@nami.org.

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