Apr 23, 2009

Mental Health Screenings for All New Moms?

By Chuck Missler

In 2001, Melanie Blocker Stokes leaped from the 12th floor of a Chicago hotel. Stokes, a happily married pharmaceutical sales manager had given birth to a cheerfully anticipated baby girl in February. As soon as the baby was born, though, everything changed. Stokes became depressed and paranoid, and her health deteriorated. She was hospitalized three times in seven weeks and was given a mixture of four different anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, and anti-anxiety drugs. She even underwent electroshock therapy. In the end, she took her own life, leaving her brand new little girl without a mother.

In response to cases like this, the US government is seeking to expand research on the scope and possible treatments for Postpartum Depression (PPD). Many mothers who have suffered from PPD are delighted that more publicity will be given to this often overlooked disorder. Others, however, are wary of potential efforts to force screening and treatments on women without their informed consent.

On March 30th, the US House of Representatives passed HR20, the Melanie Blocker Stokes MOTHERS Act, by a vote of 391-8. It's purpose? "To provide for research on, and services for individuals with, postpartum depression and psychosis." The next day the bill was sent on to the Senate for consideration.

On the surface, this seems like a great thing. Too many women have faced serious depression and even paranoia and suicidal thoughts after giving birth and have not received the care they needed. Too many have been told, "It's just the baby blues," and have not had their suffering taken seriously. For those who experience it, PPD is very real, and those who have gone through it wish that more people understood how devastating this disorder can be.

HR20 encourages the Secretary of Health and Human Services to "continue research to expand the understanding of the causes of, and treatments for, postpartum conditions" by doing research on PPD's causes, by doing studies on the frequency and natural history of PPD, by improving screening and diagnostic techniques, by developing new treatments through clinical research, and by increasing the public's awareness of the condition.

Many who have suffered from PPD support HR20 saying, "Good! The government is addressing this. They want to find new treatments! They want to raise awareness so that other women can get the help we didn't get!"

Others, though, like former therapist Lisa Bazler are concerned that HR20 is badly written and could force women into taking dangerous anti-psychotic drugs.

"What is being done currently, if you look under the hood and at the legislative history of the bill and all the front groups pushing it, is a movement towards universal mental health screening – including mandatory screening of women as they do in New Jersey – and preventative drugging during pregnancy or postpartum," she said.

Bazler, as well as the group at AbleChild.org, are especially concerned that HR20 contains no provision for informed consent – that is, there is nothing in HR20 to make sure women are warned about the potential dangers of the drugs used to treat PPD, nor to ensure that women are told about alternative treatments.

The concerns are not unfounded. New Jersey already has legislation that is similar to what is proposed in HR20, and new mothers are routinely screened as part of the program. The problem is that anti-psychotic and anti-depressant drugs are often used to treat women with PPD, and women who are diagnosed with PPD may be pressured into taking these medications. Yet, drugs certainly did not help Melanie Blocker Stokes, and many of the women who have famously killed their children, like Andrea Yates, were on anti-depressants.

UNITE founder Amy Philo began to hallucinate while on the anti-depressant Zoloft and pictured herself throwing her newborn son from the top of the stairs. When she tried to get her prescription changed, she wasn't allowed to leave the hospital for three days. "There was no counseling or anything. I was locked up like a prisoner..." She began to get better after she just stopped taking the drugs.

Women who enter into severe depression after giving birth don't need drugs to make them feel and act crazy. However, it is easy for the medical community to push new mothers into taking drugs, especially if the result of HR20 is that women are routinely screened before leaving the hospital. Educating women and their families about PPD is one thing. Subjective mental health screenings of new moms is another.

The answer to PPD may be fairly simple. It may best be treated by counseling and plenty of care and nurturing for new mothers. In many Latin American countries, where women are commonly allowed to rest and recuperate for a 40 days after birth, PPD is hardly a problem. In fast-paced America, where working women may only have two weeks off from work, or where housewives are expected to resume their normal busy schedules shortly after giving birth, PPD is far more common. The answer to the problem of PPD may lie in promoting respect for the new mother. Motherhood itself has been demeaned in many ways since the 1960s, and PPD may be a reflection of that. Fixing the problem may be as simple as making sure our wives and daughters and mothers and sisters have consistent help and support after giving birth. New moms need support and they need time. They need to know they are free to relax during these precious weeks - to just sit and enjoy their new babies.

Related Links

HR 20: Melanie Blocker Stokes... - GovTrack.us
Hospital Screens All New Moms for PPD - Nurse.com
HR20-New Mother's Mandated Mental Health Test - Daily Paul
A Letter Against The Mother's Act - AbleChild.org
Post-Partum Depression...Devastating Illness Needs Our Attention - The Meadville Tribune
Mental Health Screening Targets Moms-To-Be - WorldNetDaily
Melanie's Story - Melaniesbattle.org
UNITE History - UniteForLife
How Does God Bring About Mind Renewal? - Koinonia House