By: Walker Karraa
Regular contributor Walker Karraa has written an excellent three part series on Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMAD) and what the childbirth educator or birth professional can do to help women get the help they may need when dealing with mental illness during the prenatal and postpartum period. Walker interviews experts in the field who all offer concrete steps, activities and resources so that educators and others can do to be more prepared to discuss this important subject with students and clients. Today, Walker interviews Jennifer Moyer, an expert in the field of postpartum psychosis who is an active mental health advocate, and has had personal experience with postpartum psychosis after her son’s birth. Here you can find Part I and Part II of the series.– Sharon Muza, Community Manager.
“Childbirth professionals have a unique opportunity to reach a tremendous number of women and families as most pregnant women participate in some type of childbirth class.” —Jennifer Moyer
As many of you know, I am a big proponent of qualitative research methods. The lived experience of a phenomenon offers a depth of data that objectivist methods simply cannot collect. Researchers in women’s reproductive health have been on the forefront of the understanding and implementation of research that listens to mothers. In the same way, I wanted to offer Science and Sensibility readers the voice of a mother, postpartum doula, and advocate who has lived it—experienced postpartum psychosis (PP) and not only “survived”, but transformed the adversity into a path to helping others.
Jennifer Moyer has unique insight into mental health as a recovered mom herself. She overcame postpartum psychosis, a life threatening mental illness, which she was struck with when her son was eight weeks old. She has focused her efforts on being a mental health advocate in the area of perinatal mental health in order to help others experiencing mental illness related to childbearing.
Jennifer also has experience as a postpartum support and education consultant, a certified postpartum doula and a speaker on mental health issues.
WK: The recent Felicia Boots tragedy in the UK has brought media attention to the dangers of untreated perinatal mood disorders, specifically postpartum psychosis (PP). What are your thoughts as to the multiple factors that contribute to a tragedy such as this?
Jennifer Moyer: I believe there are several factors that contribute to tragedies associated with perinatal mood disorders. One of the factors is the ignorance about the difference between postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis, which is usually the disorder associated with infanticide. In my experience with postpartum psychosis, I was completely unaware that postpartum psychosis even existed despite having an educated and proactive pregnancy. I think many mothers are in the same situation.
Another contributing factor is that providers often do not provide education on the warning signs or risk factors of perinatal mood disorders making it difficult for a mother or her loved ones to recognize what is happening. Of course the lack of preventative screening also causes a mother at risk from receiving early intervention.
There are other factors as well but I believe these are the primary obstacles contributing to unnecessary tragedies.
WK: Can you describe the sequelae of postpartum psychosis (PP)?
Jennifer Moyer: An aftereffect or secondary result of postpartum psychosis is different for each mother but, in general, I have found that it changes the mother forever. In my case, postpartum psychosis came on sudden and unexpectedly. Once I was stabilized, the trauma I had experienced prior to my diagnosis left me with serious post-traumatic stress. It also shattered the positive and strong bond I had with my son prior to the onset of postpartum psychosis. It caused me to question my ability has a mother for a very long time. The lack of understanding about my condition as well as lack of support from someone, who had experienced postpartum psychosis, lengthened my recovery and made it much more difficult.
Postpartum PsychosisPostpartum Psychosis is a rare illness, compared to the rates of postpartum depression or anxiety. It occurs in approximately 1 to 2 out of every 1,000 deliveries, or approximately .1% of births. The onset is usually sudden, most often within the first 4 weeks postpartum.Symptoms of postpartum psychosis can include:
- Delusions or strange beliefs
- Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there)
- Feeling very irritated
- Decreased need for or inability to sleep
- Paranoia and suspiciousness
- Rapid mood swings
- Difficulty communicating at times
The most significant risk factors for postpartum psychosis are a personal or family history of bipolar disorder, or a previous psychotic episode.
source: Postpartum Support International
WK: How might childbirth professionals integrate an understanding of PP and other perinatal mood disorders in classes?
Jennifer Moyer: I believe education on perinatal mood disorders should be included in every childbirth class. In fact, when I worked as a Postpartum Support and Education Consultant, I did a presentation on perinatal mood disorders in every childbirth class conducted at a hospital in my area. By educating the mother and her partner about the risk factors, symptoms and proper treatment, early intervention occurred when a case did occur. My involvement helped educate the childbirth professionals, which led to them ultimately address perinatal mood disorders on their own in their classes. To me, the goal is to educate as much as possible so that the information can be passed on to women and their families. Childbirth professionals have a unique opportunity to reach a tremendous number of women and families as most pregnant women participate in some type of childbirth class.
WK: How would you describe the stigma of perinatal mental health disorders and its impact?
Jennifer Moyer: The stigma of perinatal mental health disorders prevents women from getting help when they need it. Often because of the stigma and lack of understanding, women are often afraid they will lose their child (children) if they do seek help. The stigma of perinatal mental health disorders is devastating to families and communities. When families and the community are not educated about perinatal mental health disorders, it makes it difficult for the disorders to be properly addressed, treated and prevented. I have heard of way too many cases of the mother losing her children because of the lack of understanding and education of perinatal mental health disorders in the community.
WK: What do you see as the most significant barriers to treatment for women with PMADs?
Jennifer Moyer: I believe the most significant barrier is the lack of proper education and training of health care professionals. Another barrier is the failure of the providers, who are not properly trained, to refer the women to perinatal mental health resources or if no resources available in the area, to consult with an expert in perinatal mental health. So many women are improperly treated. I know of many cases where the woman contacted her doctor for assistance and were only prescribed an antidepressant, often over the phone, and received no further direction or support. So it goes back to education or, in the case of the primary barrier, the lack of education.
WK: Recently, the study The risks of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor use in infertile women: a review of the impact on fertility, pregnancy, neonatal health and beyond (Domar, Moragianni, Ryley & Urato, 2012) attracted attention regarding the safety of using SSRI medication in pregnancy. Would you like to respond to the study directly?
Jennifer Moyer: I am not a medical professional so I cannot respond in depth but from a lay person’s perspective, this information can cause many pregnant women from seeking help, if they are experiencing any perinatal mental health issues. My understanding is there is always a risk/benefit analysis when it comes to medication so education about options is so important. In my opinion, it seems that medication is often the only intervention presented rather than a more complete and balanced plan of treatment, which may include medication when necessary. Educating women about their options should always be a priority but if the health care professionals are not properly educated in perinatal mental health, how can they educate anyone else?
WK: What suggestions do you have regarding how childbirth organizations can encompass perinatal mental health into training curriculum and practice?
Jennifer Moyer: Offering and requiring specific training on perinatal mental health for all members would increase awareness, education, treatment and most importantly prevention. Offering continuing education and ways of implementing mental health into their practice would help eliminate stigma and, when necessary, increase referral and treatment to perinatal mental health professionals.
WK: What can we do to increase the understanding that a woman’s mental health is part of maternal health?
Jennifer Moyer: Although the old saying “if mom is not happy, no one is happy”, puts pressure on moms, it does stress the importance of maternal health. The health of mothers is critical to society and communities everywhere. The more mental health is talked about, the better understanding will occur. As you probably have realized from my previous responses, I am a huge proponent of education. I believe it is the key to decreasing stigma and bringing about positive changes in the health of women both mentally and in general.
In what ways can childbirth educators participate in bringing about positive changes within this paradigm? How can health care professionals learn more about how the role mother’s mental health plays in so many of the dynamics of the new mother and child(ren). Would you be interested in a webinar on this topic? Where do you as a birth professional go for more resources, information and teaching tools on the topic of postpartum mental health?
About Jennifer Moyer
Jennifer Moyer has various media experience including her personal story being published in the February 2002 issue of Glamour Magazine resulting in a guest appearance on CNN’s The Point. She was also interviewed for an article appearing in the December 2002 issue of Psychology Today. Jennifer is a member of the National Perinatal Association, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Mental Health America, The Marcé Society, the National Association of Mothers’ Centers and Postpartum Support International. Jennifer is also now a member of the International Association for Women’s Mental Health.
Please contact Jennifer through her website or by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Jennifer blogs at: www.jennifermoyer.com/blog
Walker would like to thank Jennifer Moyer, Nancy Byatt, D.O., MBA, and Julia Frank, MD, and the Listserv of the Marce Society for their assistance with this article.