23 August 2012

PostPartum Depression, PostPartum Psychosis, it's all the same thing, right?

There's a saying that goes "You say po-tay-to, I say po-tah-to...". I've never heard it actually used specifically in reference to the pronunciation of the word "potato"; instead, it is usually used as an illustration or argument that although two things may sound different, they're really the same thing. Sometimes this is a legitimate point. Sometimes, however, it is quite the opposite.

You might be asking "What do sayings about potatoes have to do with PostPartum Depression?". Something that I hear a lot is people talking about "She killed her child because she has PostPartum Depression". This often comes up in discussions that reference Andrea Yates and/or Otty Sanchez. Currently, I'm hearing it tossed around in reference to Chevonne Thomas, a mother with a history of mental illness and drug use who decapitated her 2 year old son and then killed herself. I would like to note, I have not read anything indicating that the cause of her actions has been determined through investigation/diagnosis by medical professionals to be a PPMD. The only diagnoses I'm seeing are coming from people around the web who are immediately jumping to the conclusion that since she was a mother and killed her child, it must be a PPMD.

Without even getting into the issues that come with immediately assuming that someone who does something bad MUST have a mental illness, and specifically that a mother would only kill her child if she had a PPMD, the issue I'd like to focus on is the misuse of the term "PostPartum Depression". Otty Sanchez and Andrea Yates did not have PPD. They were both suffering from PostPartum Psychosis.

What far too many people don't realize is that PostPartum Depression and PostPartum Psychosis are not at all the same thing. They are both PostPartum Mood Disorders but they are two separate PPMD. The terms get used interchangeably (usually, in my experience, with people substituting PostPartum Depression for PostPartum Psychosis) but that is not as it should be. It's no more accurate to think/claim that they are the same thing than it would be to say someone has Breast Cancer when what they actually have is Lung Cancer.

The Mayo Clinic lists the following as symptoms of the two:

Postpartum depression symptomsPostpartum depression may appear to be the baby blues at first — but the signs and symptoms are more intense and longer lasting, eventually interfering with your ability to care for your baby and handle other daily tasks. Postpartum depression symptoms may include:
  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Intense irritability and anger
  • Overwhelming fatigue
  • Loss of interest in sex
  • Lack of joy in life
  • Feelings of shame, guilt or inadequacy
  • Severe mood swing
  • Difficulty bonding with the baby
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or the baby
Untreated, postpartum depression may last for a year or more.

Postpartum psychosisWith postpartum psychosis — a rare condition that typically develops within the first two weeks after delivery — the signs and symptoms are even more severe. Signs and symptoms of postpartum psychosis may include:
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Hallucinations and delusions
  • Paranoia
  • Attempts to harm yourself or the baby

When I was being admitted for my hospitalizations for PPD a few years ago, they specifically asked if I was hearing voices or seeing things/people. I've known some people who said that when they were suffering PPP, they had an overwhelming feeling that there was a demonic force waiting to snatch their baby. Some think that they are hearing from God to kill their baby to save it from some disastrous fate. With both PPD and PPP, although there are guidelines, markers, and symptoms that health professionals look for to diagnose a PPMD, there is no guarantee that all mothers will feel an entire checklist or experience the symptoms in the same way or at the same time. In my opinion, the unpredictability is one of the things that makes PPMD so difficult. You can't just assume that someone with a PPMD will look, act, or talk a certain way. There is no one face of PPMD. There is no "This is what a PPMD always looks like or acts like".

Katherine Stone of PostPartum Progress (yes, linking to my favorite PPD blog again) has a couple of excellent posts about the Symptoms of PostPartum Anxiety and Depression and the Symptoms of PostPartum Depression. These lists are written in "Plain-Mama English". They make the symptoms a lot easier to understand and relate to, as well as getting a lot more in-depth than most symptom lists on the internet. If you're wondering about the differences between PPD and PPP, I highly recommend going to those two posts and reading what she has to say.

PostPartum Depression and PostPartum Psychosis are both horrible illnesses. They can both be completely debilitating and, if left untreated, have long-lasting and tragic consequences and implications for the new mother, her baby, her family, her friends, and any number of people. They are both illnesses that I hope someday soon will be the topic of more research and public education campaigns. Neither of them are anything I would ever wish on my worst enemy and they are both something that, in my wildest dreams, I would love to somehow see totally eradicated from the face of the earth. Yes, they have some similarities and some shared symptoms, but that doesn't mean they are the same thing or that they should be referred to as the same thing or the terms used interchangeably. Please, educate yourself on the differences between the two and then spread your knowledge on to other people. Educating ourselves and others, and being willing to speak up and say "Hey, you realize that's not accurate, right?" when we see/hear someone using the terms incorrectly is a good place to start on fighting the stigmas and combating the ignorance that surrounds PPMD.

1 comment:

  1. As I read your posts and learn more, I thank God more and more for protecting you, and that you had the sense and wherewithal to go to the ER, and that they knew what to do. And that you had good doctors (although the one who ignored the thyroid test could have been even better).