One in eight Utah women suffer from postpartum depression and are robbed of the joy they expect to feel after childbirth, according to Sen. Brian Zehnder, R-Holladay, who sponsors SCR11. The concurrent resolution would raise awareness and treatment of maternal depression and anxiety.
SCR11 would show the legislature’s commitment to address this issue on mulitple levels. According to the text, it urges the Department of Health, Department of Human Services, local health departments, and the medical community to screen mothers throughout pregnancy and afterwards at well-child visits. The resolution also encourages those departments to expand training, education, and support to staff and mothers, increase public awareness and education, and expand statewide maternal mental health data collection to lead to a better standard of care.
In addition to his responsibilities as a senator, Zehnder is a family physician. He said he has had countless firsthand experiences of the miracle of childbirth, but also much experience with the tragedy of postpartum depression.
“For many women, just when her new infant comes into her life, just when she expects to be gloriously happy, her exhaustion, her neuro-chemicals, even her emotional history can conspire to rob her of her joy,” Zehnder said.
Zehnder said depression does not only effect the mother. It effects the newborn as well and robs them of the chance to connect with their mother during the critical time following childbirth.
This resolution recognizes that postpartum depression, or PPD, can include pregnancy all the way to a year following childbirth, after which it would be considered major clinical depression.
Postpartum depression does not always manifest itself as sadness or lack of motivation. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms might include insomnia, loss of appetite, intense irritability and difficulty bonding with the baby.
Amy-Rose White, founder of Utah Maternal Mental Health Collaborative, said when women have these symptoms that don’t feel like “normal” depression, they feel ashamed and afraid to tell someone how they feel, for fear that their children could be taken from them.
“We have an issue that effects so many women,” White said. “Yet very few providers are educating, or even know themselves, what the symptoms look like so that women can be prepared and receive the care that they need.”
Josie Dearing, a young mother of three, said she struggled with PPD for a few months after the birth of her first daughter. She said she felt completely numb to the world around her and the only thing that motivated her to get out of bed in the morning was the knowledge that her new baby would starve if she didn’t.
“I totally lost my will to do anything,” Dearing said. “About three months into all this, I finally realized there must be something off, because this was so not the usual me.”
When she finally talked to her doctor about how she had been feeling, he told her she was probably experiencing postpartum depression bad enough that she should have been medicated.
She said she had no idea that’s what had been going on.
“I could’ve gotten help so much sooner if I’d known I was experiencing symptoms of something rather than just a weird hormonal fluke,” Dearing said. “I could’ve skipped one of the toughest periods of time in my life.”
She said she thinks awareness for PPD is extremely important, so that women can know they’re not alone and there’s help available when they need it.
White agreed this issue is vital, and said Utah is an amazing state that offers a beautiful quality of life for families, yet the state has no institutionalized system of care to adequately address these issues.
“There is nowhere in Utah for women to go who are actively suicidal, who are very ill, who need specialized care,” White said.
The Utah Maternal Mental Health Collaborative (MMHC) offers many resources for maternal support, including free phone calls and email support, information for local and online support groups and contact information for many psychotherapists with training from Postpartum Support International.
White, who founded MMHC, is a psychotherapist herself, and said there are resources for people with these struggles, but too few people know about them.
Have you or someone you know recently had a baby? Have you ever struggled with Postpartum Depression? Help Me Grow gives…
Help Me Grow Utah is a local nonprofit based in Provo that “provides parents, physicians, and providers with the knowledge and resources they need to make a difference in the lives of children,” according to their mission statement.
Lilian Norseth, an intern with Help Me Grow Utah, said they provide the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale for free, which is a screening to identify if a person is at risk of postpartum depression. She said this is a great resource for moms to know about because it identifies the problem and helps connect mothers with the resources they need.
Zehnder said families across the state need support and this resolution would help families receive the help they desperately need and deserve.
The resolution text calls for a copy of SCR11 to be sent to the Department of Health, Department of Human Services and all local health departments.
It has passed in the Senate and awaits further discussion in the House.