I Want Postpartum Suicide to End – Here Are Some Ways You Can Help
September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness month. Before I write anything else, I want to say how profoundly sorry I am if suicide has taken someone you love. If you are struggling with finding a reason to live, then please believe hope and help are real. Keep living, friend.
There’s a good chance you have lost someone to suicide or know someone who has. The nonprofit group To Write Love on Her Arms presents this sobering statement: “Suicide is at a 30-year high in America. The numbers are staggering, the stories are heartbreaking and the fight is far from over.”
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 42,773 Americans take their own lives each year. For every one death by suicide, there are 25 others who attempt. These stats are especially painful to me when I consider suicide is the second leading cause of death in postpartum women. Not just women who were already diagnosed with a mental illness, but second for all postpartum women. Let that sink in.
In the past few weeks, I’ve read three different stories that left me aching and wondering how and when this stops. These stories were of mamas, not too different from you and me. They wanted to be good parents, to enjoy motherhood and to give their children a happy home. Instead, they were terrified to be alive. They were deeply depressed, choked with anxiety and unable to reconcile their misery with the happiness they were “supposed” to be feeling. They were mamas who were struggling unbearable anguish of mind and soul, and they didn’t know how to get help.
They couldn’t shut out the lie that constantly whispered to them, You are not enough. The world is better off without you. Life is not worth living. So they left. They left behind children, husbands, parents and friends, many of whom would have never anticipated this.
From the outside, we might be tempted to judge these mamas. How could a woman with a beautiful existence take her own life? She had the children she always wanted, a loving husband and a comfortable home. What did she have to be unhappy about?
We want to make sense of tragedy, but this way of thinking is naive at best. At worst, it is a catalyst for perpetuating the stigma that surrounds maternal mental illness. The truth is no matter how picture-perfect or destitute a mother’s circumstances, no woman is immune to postpartum mental distress.
According to Postpartum Support International, “women of every culture, age, income level, and race can develop perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. Symptoms can appear any time during pregnancy and the first 12 months after childbirth.” Postpartum depression (PPD) doesn’t discriminate.
Suicide most often occurs when stressors exceed current coping abilities of someone struggling with a mental health condition. Depression is the most common condition associated with suicide. It is often undiagnosed or untreated.
PPD and other maternal mental health problems affect an astounding 15 to 20 percent of women. Some estimate that the actual number is much higher. Many of these mamas are undiagnosed, struggling beneath the radar of their health professionals, friends and even family members.
We all know parenting is hard. However, for someone who has a mental illness, it can be brutal (ask me how I know). If a woman has PPD, then all the normal stress that comes with motherhood seems heavier, more overwhelming and even impossible to handle. Add in the sleep deprivation that’s the hallmark of life with an infant, and it can be a perfect storm for suicidal ideation.
When I was at my darkest point after the birth of my second baby, there was one persistent thought that plagued me constantly: I can’t do this. I give up. I don’t want to be anymore.
While I never had any specific plans or intention to die by suicide, my desperation for peace was so great I longed to not exist. I really don’t know what kept me from reaching the point of no return. I believe it could only be God’s loving hand. Tonight, holding my fourth beautiful baby, I’m so grateful I’m still here. And I want every mama to still be here.
I want postpartum suicide to end. I know I only have a small part to play, but maybe I can reach just one woman, take her hand and walk with her to the other side of her darkness. Maybe you can, too, and then maybe, together, we can save lives across the world.
How can you help?
Don’t be afraid to gently ask the mamas in your life if they’re doing OK. Try these conversation starters:
“Being a new mom is so hard. How are you really doing?
“How are you feeling? Any signs of depression or anxiety? I’m concerned about you.”
“You look great! But I know how well we mamas can hide our feelings. Let me know if you feel down or anxious. I’m a good listener.”
2. Be informed.
Learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of PPD and other perinatal mood disorders.
3. Be vulnerable.
Have you experienced PPD or another mental health condition? It’s validating for other mamas to hear they aren’t alone: “I’ve been through PPD, too. It was awful. I’m here for you if you ever find yourself in that boat.”
4. Offer to hold her hand.
It takes so much courage for a woman to ask for help. Offer to hold her hand while she calls her doctor. Offer to go with her to her appointment. Offer to help her find a therapist. Offer your presence during the tough moments when she has to admit out loud that she needs help.
5. Work to end the stigma surrounding maternal mental illness.
This is huge. The more we talk about PPD openly, the safer women will feel and the more likely they will get the help they need and deserve. Social media is a great place to start. Also check out 2020Mom and National Coalition for Maternal Mental Health.
6. Speak the truth.
Does your loved one believe she is not deserving of life? Remind her of her great dignity as a human person. Does she feel unloved or unwanted? Surround her with unconditional love. Does she doubt her ability to make it another day? Give her courage by believing in her worth and her beauty. Speak the truth to her until she can’t deny it anymore!
Are you struggling with postpartum depression? You are not alone. There is help. There is healing. There is hope. You are needed in this world and your life is worth living. Reach out.
Image via Thinkstock.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.