The internet has been going crazy lately (well, doesn’t it always?) over the fact that screening for depression before and after a woman gives birth is now recommended by the US Preventive Services Task Force. So what’s all the hoopla about? Apparently, New York Times bestselling author Marianne Williamson believes screening is nonsense, as she went to Facebook to air her opinion that the recommendation is simply a way to sell more drugs:
“Hormonal changes during and after pregnancy are NORMAL. Mood changes are NORMAL. Meditation helps. Prayer helps. Nutritional support helps. Love helps.
The [postpartum depression] disease is not inside the woman; the disease is inside a system so based on greed that it does not honor parents’ need to remain with their children long enough after birth.”
But that’s just simply not true. Depression is a real disease, not something that exists “outside” the body just for drug companies to make money on. Postpartum depression happens to many women–in fact, it occurs in 1 in 7 women post-birth. Postpartum anxiety is also extremely common (Kveller writer Tamara Reese wrote all about her own experience here). And clinical depression and anxiety are serious–it’s not something someone can just “walk off” or “get over.”
READ: Postpartum Anxiety–This is What Mine Looked Like
This is not to say that women who suffer from PPD all need to take medication, but it does require treatment in the form of therapy, whether it’s group therapy, psychotherapy, or something else. And screening would help more women be identified and receive the help and support they deserve.
So what can we do about comments like Williamson’s, which are incredibly harmful? Kveller contributor Avital Norman Nathman and Katherine Stone, founder of Postpartum Progress, have started a social media movement to push back by using the hashtag #MeditateOnThis and encouraging women to share their stories of postpartum depression and anxiety. Nathman has written about her own struggles with anxiety for us, from how opening up about it has helped her, experiencing weight loss due to anxiety, and how she deals with anxiety as a wife and mother.
We asked Nathman what her initial reaction was when she first read Williamson’s Facebook post, and she told us:
“I had to reread Williamson’s original post a couple of times to ensure I was understanding her correctly. I can understand the worry over “Big Pharma,” and there is certainly a time and place for that discussion. However, using that in response to the recommendation for more postpartum screening is simply not the place. Nobody is advocating that everyone start on medication ASAP.
What we are advocating for is to stop the shaming of women who need medication in order to even attempt the other “alternatives” that Williamson suggests. Yes, we need to talk about the normalization of changing hormones. Yes, we need to discuss critical changes to our current workplace policies. Yes, we need to provide better forms of support for new parents. But none of that negates the fact that for some women, getting on medication is a matter of life or death. I was just flabbergasted that she could be so dismissive of that. I was concerned that any number if her followers who was struggling with PPD might feel shamed or not take the necessary steps to get help.”
Seeing the hashtag take off so well was not only validating to Nathman, but indicative of how crucial it is for women to speak out about their experiences. She told us:
“While I’m not surprised, I have been completely overwhelmed. We reached almost 2 million people so far. And that’s because there are women out there aching to tell their stories, to share their truths, in the hopes that other mothers and families feel less alone. The tweets that were accompanied by pictures stating that the writer might not have been around had it not been for treatment were incredibly gripping.”
Here are some of my favorite tweets thus far:
. @marwilliamson I can’t fathom anyone railing against a call for health screenings – SCREENING!! – for men. Why for women? #meditateonthis
— Amy Lupold Bair (@ResourcefulMom) January 27, 2016
I am AGAINST maternal mental health issues being reduced to “this is just woman stuff”+”pray and find balance” #meditateonthis — Jasmine Banks (@Djazzo) January 28, 2016
.@marwilliamson: I use yoga, acupuncture, exercise & diet to help my #anxiety. But meds allow me to do so. #MeditateOnThis
— Avital N. Nathman (@TheMamaFesto) January 27, 2016