This summer I had the pleasure of attending the Postpartum Support International Conference in Philadelphia on July 14 & 15. The conference is always a great place to catch up with others across the county who are working on all aspects of maternal mental health. The keynotes, breakouts and even the banquet dinner were dynamic this year. Two presentations that really struck me were Focusing on Fathers, Supporting Those Affected by Postpartum Psychosis.
Dr. Chuck Schaeffer discussed the impact of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders on new fathers and provided outreach examples and clinical interventions. He also shared some interesting new (to me) research on dads. For instance, did you know that testosterone in expectant dads actually drops 30% about two months prior to birth while other hormones increase? This new balance of hormones rewire the dad’s brain which is thought to help him emotionally prepare for fatherhood. According to Dr. Schaeffer, this can also place him at risk for developing a perinatal mood disorder. Fathers are facing perinatal mood and anxiety disorders at around the same rate as mothers, and it’s also more likely that a father is experiencing depression if their partner is experiencing postpartum depression. The problem is that the father’s mental health needs are going unnoticed and untreated, so they aren’t being provided the same resources and services that the mother is. As with other mental health needs, early intervention is key. It is so important that fathers are receiving the same education, care, resources, and services that mothers who are struggling with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders so that the whole family is healthy, not just one parent.
The second panel discussion that really struck a chord with me was presented by Jennifer Moyer, MS and Teresa Twomey, JD. The talk was centered on psychosis and the presenters asked the attendees to do a quick Google search on postpartum psychosis. We were to report back on what we found, which as you might guess, was completely unfhelpful information on the internet. Many found negative articles about moms who want to hurt their babies, but that is just one aspect of postpartum psychosis. Postpartum psychosis occurs within the first 2 weeks of giving birth and the mother may experience a myriad of signs and symptoms including hallucinations, paranoia, cognitive impairment, and disorganized behaviors. Most women who experience postpartum psychosis do not hurt themselves or anyone else. The symptoms of postpartum psychosis are quite serious and do require immediate treatment, however, it’s unfortunate that the first things you find on Google are discouraging and stigmatizing. If a family member is looking for resources or a simple hotline to call, they really have to go through some scary information to find help.
Resources are not readily available for mothers and fathers who are struggling and we really need to do a better job at helping them and their families find the support they need. To learn more about postpartum psychosis, support for dads and partners, and perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, visit www.healthynewmoms.org.
I look forward to the PSI Conference in 2018!