An awareness campaign — Wyoming: Climb out of the Darkness — for prenatal and postpartum mental health began the first of May and runs through June 26.
Now in its third year, the campaign highlights patients suffering, surviving and those lost to mood and anxiety disorders associated with pregnancy and childbirth. As a group, those disorders are called perinatal mood and anxiety disorder, or PMAD.
Statistically, one in seven new mothers and one in 10 new fathers deal with a mental health disorder in the time before and/or after birth, said Bonita Katz, vice chair of Postpartum Support International — Wyoming Chapter. That number may be higher in Wyoming where isolation is part of the terrain.
But Postpartum Support International is using that terrain to help shed some light on the topic, through a “WY I Climb” effort. Originally, the events were held in Jackson, with participants hiking up Snow King Mountain. This year, in part because of the pandemic and in part because it allows more participation, individuals or groups are invited to show themselves “climbing out of the darkness” by sharing photos to firstname.lastname@example.org. It also has a social media page at www.facebook.com/psiwychapter.
Katz said there are multiple misconceptions about PMAD. Depression or anxiety can affect any primary caregiver, not just the woman who gave birth. This can include birth or adoptive parents, parents in the LGBT community, foster parents, stepparents or grandparents raising grandchildren.
The friends, relatives, neighbors or partner/spouse of parents may not be clear on whether a behavior or situation is something they should be concerned about. Katz said there are multiple resources on the internet, including the Postpartum Support International (PSI) website. Those resources can help put minds at ease or encourage someone to take the next step. That step might be calling the PSI “warmline,” which Katz said is staffed with professionals who can help sort out if more help is needed; they can put the caller in touch with counselors who specialize in PMAD.
“There are good resources in Park County,” she said. “But there could be a wait for an appointment.”
Another resource for the sufferer is to call their health care provider. The old thinking was that a new mother didn’t need to see her doctor for six weeks after the baby was born, unless there was a problem.
However, “the recommendations are changing,” Katz said. “It’s going to seeing the care provider at three weeks, not six. Education is the key.”
Part of that education is to take away the stigma associated with depression and seeking help for mental disorders. Another part is teaching that PMAD isn’t just the “baby blues.” Baby blues are recognized as a result from tiredness, sleep deprivation and out-of-control hormones. Statistically, some 80% of new parents suffer from those impacts.
“If it lasts more than a few weeks, it’s depression,” Katz said.
The goal of Postpartum Support International’s Wyoming chapter is showing mental health as part of a healthy new family. Raising awareness of the problem through WY I Climb is a fun way to share experiences and get outdoors, but there are other ways to meet the problem head-on.
One way, Katz suggested, would be to form or join a postpartum support group. “It will let them share and see that everybody messes up sometimes, that everybody is human and we all mess up sometimes.” Those groups, whether in-person or virtual, show that human element to a parent who otherwise could be overwhelmed.
Another suggestions is to stay in touch with new parents.
“Call, knock on the door, go visit,” Katz said. That human connection is missing in some cultures today because families are smaller and lack multi-generational extended family. In the past it was common for even new parents to have had experience caring for younger siblings or cousins — and usually there was an older aunt or grandparent to seek advice from if the parents were out of the house at the time.
Some of that has been lost in modern cultures, but staying in contact with new families can help if they need to seek guidance in what to them are uncharted waters.