More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
New study finds stigma and fear haunt moms suffering postpartum depression
October 06, 2005

FREDERICTON (CP) - Actor Tom Cruise may think there's no substance to the complaint, but a new Canadian study says postpartum depression is real, it's painful and dangerous.

The study, which looked at mothers in Alberta and in New Brunswick, also found that women in the Maritime province suffered more serious post-natal depression than those in the western province.

Researchers Dr. Nicole Letourneau and Linda Duffett-Leger of the University of New Brunswick said Thursday the year-long study found that, in general, women tend to suffer postpartum depression in silence, without seeking professional help.

"We found that even when services are available, as in a resource-rich environment like Alberta, about 50 per cent of mothers wouldn't access the services," Letourneau said in an interview.

"There's a lack of public awareness."

Letourneau said that when researchers interviewed mothers in New Brunswick, they found them to be far more depressed than those in Alberta.

She said social stigma in the Maritime province and a lack of resources are key issues for women suffering depression following childbirth.

"In Alberta, there are resources and everyone is screened for postpartum. Everybody goes in, they get their baby's immunizations done and they get screened for postpartum depression. It's simply recognized as an important thing the nurses should be looking for," Letourneau said.

"Whereas in New Brunswick, while there are lots of services for new families, there's nothing really targeted at identifying postpartum depression. That contributes to the stigma."

Letourneau said that postpartum depression - believed to be triggered by biological changes and hormone imbalances following childbirth - affects up to 30 per cent of new mothers and is one of the most common health problems following childbirth.

Postpartum depression has been a hot topic in the media this year, with actor Brooke Shields writing a tell-all book about her experiences battling the disorder following the birth of her first child.

Shields sparred publicly with fellow actor Cruise, who condemned her use of anti-depressants as "irresponsible."

Cruise ignited a storm of controversy when he said that Shields and other new mothers simply should take more vitamins and get more exercise.

Letourneau said postpartum depression goes beyond the "baby blues" most women feel in the days after giving birth.

Symptoms include anxiety, exhaustion, confusion, guilt, feelings of failure and fear.

Letourneau and Duffet-Leger said extreme cases can be dangerous not only to the mother, but to the family as well.

There have been several high-profile cases of postpartum moms killing themselves and members of their families.

In a recent Toronto case, Andrea Labbe, in a severe bout of postpartum psychosis, killed her husband Brian Langer, daughter Zoe, 3, and then attempted to kill Brigitte, 2, before turning the knife on herself.

"Many women mask the symptoms themselves," said Duffett-Leger. "They don't want to be seen as a bad mother who can't cope. They're ashamed and afraid."

The postpartum study was carried out by the Canadian Institute for Health Research. It involved interviews with 42 mothers and 32 health-care workers in Alberta and New Brunswick.

The findings, released at a postpartum conference underway in Fredericton, include calls for improved public awareness and more community support.

"They want some kind of group support," Duffett-Leger said of the depressed mothers. "They want to talk to other mothers who have experienced the same thing they are going through.

"They don't want to be with other mothers who are happy."


you know, I'm sorry to say this but Tom Cruise really should not have said that- yes everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but if he is going to make it public and it has potential to reach so many people and affect policy makers, law enforcements, families... then it better be an educated statment. I always thought he was such a nice guy (then again, what do we really know about actors) but his statement shows not only lack of consideration but just plain ignorance.
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