Avoiding Tragedy How to Treat Postpartum Depression

By Mask, Teresa | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), June 22, 2001 | Go to article overview

Avoiding Tragedy How to Treat Postpartum Depression


Mask, Teresa, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Teresa Mask Daily Herald Staff Writer

New mothers leaving Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital get a parting gift that could save their lives and the lives of their children.

It's a brochure detailing postpartum depression, what exactly it is and information about the therapy group offered at the Downers Grove hospital.

Advocate Good Samaritan and hospitals in the Alexian Brothers Health Systems are among a few suburban sites that have programs specifically geared to treating and preventing the disorder that affects new mothers.

As a rule, Illinois does not mandate hospitals give women information on the topic as they do on taking care of the baby and the importance of using car seats .

Experts say that needs to change in order to provide better awareness of postpartum depression and to direct more women into prevention programs.

"We must talk about this before women are discharged. And we must alert women to the risk factors," said Leslie Stoutenburg, director of the pregnancy and postpartum mood and anxiety disorder program at Alexian Brothers Health Systems, which has hospitals in Hoffman Estates and Elk Grove Village.

Because so few hospitals are equipped with programs, Stoutenburg and officials at Advocate Good Samaritan are called frequently for referrals by other suburban hospitals on where to send their patients for help.

Eighty percent of all new mothers suffer what is known as the "baby blues," a short bout of mood swings and weepiness that doesn't last for more than a few weeks. Between 10 percent and 15 percent experience some sort of depression, which could go on for months. One in 1,000 have postpartum psychosis, a disorder so severe it could lead to suicide or the murder of their children. The disorder could persist for years.

Police say that may have been what led Andrea Yates of Houston to drown all five of her children in a bathtub on Wednesday. The 36-year-old woman, who had a 6-month-old, had been on medication for depression since the birth of her fourth child, two years ago.

Also, late Wednesday night, the body of Amy Garvey, a 29-year- old Algonquin woman, was found in Lake Michigan. Police say she had suffered from mental illness and depression. She had given birth a year ago.

Another mother, Melanie Stokes, was undergoing shock treatment to stop hallucinations that told her to kill herself or her 3- month-old daughter. She jumped out of a hotel window to her death in Chicago last week.

"When women in the group see stuff like this it scares the heck out of them," said Diane Semprevivo, who runs the therapy group at Good Samaritan. "They say, 'We're getting help. Could this still happen to us?' "

Researchers have not pinpointed the causes behind the condition, and persistent depressions may not be recognized or may be dismissed as transitory, leaving some women untreated.

There are many symptoms, but three are red flags, Stoutenburg said. She said family members should particularly recognize a loss of appetite or weight loss, lack of sleep, and irritability and frustration in new mothers.

Once they see those signs, they must try to get the woman on a treatment regimen.

Anti-depressants are often prescribed to treat postpartum depression. An anti-depressant worked for Rolling Meadows resident Maria Guadulupe Salazar. She took medication for five months when she experienced postpartum depression after the birth of her 8- month-old daughter Daisy.

"I was always sad," she explained through a translator. "I was always feeling like when the kids would leave the room that I would die by myself."

Salazar was diagnosed by a nurse at the Rolling Meadows Police Neighborhood Resource Center clinic. She said she didn't have depression with her other four children.

Dr. Laura Miller, author of "Postpartum Mood Disorders" and associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Illinois, said more than anything postpartum blues is linked to hormones. …

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