Postpartum Depression and Anxiety: A Global Perspective

I have a few resources to share with you today on the theme of global perspectives on postpartum depression and anxiety. There is a lot of focus on PPD/A as it manifests in North America, especially in the USA. A lot of literature points to the lack of resources, community, and care for new moms and the lack of paid maternity leave in the United States jumps to mind immediately as a major factor in exacerbating PPD/A. But what does PPD/A look like in other parts of the world? Is it equally prevalent? Or is the Western lifestyle, with its rampant social isolation, particularly conducive to PPD/A?

These are big questions and I don’t have complete answers, but I want to share three articles that address this question head on. The first is from Postpartum Progress where author Katherine Stone dispels the myth that PPD/A is non-existent in a variety of non-Western cultures. Her data suggest that PPD/A is a universal complication of pregnancy and parenthood with rates ranging from 10-40% of pregnant and postpartum women, with women living in poverty at an increased risk.

But while the experience may be universal the treatment certainly isn’t. In this article  Nupur Dhingra Paiva shares her story of being a new mother in India where she saw a general denial of PPD/A as a legitimate illness, even from doctors. Clearly this intense stigma will affect the number of women willing to get help and treatment.

It’s also true that we may have much to learn in North America from other cultures that perform postpartum rituals that are protective against PPD/A. This study  released by the World Health Organization suggests that cultures that practice a period of increased care for mothers for at least 30 days after a birth show lower levels of PPD/A, or at least lower severity. Rituals might include preparing special foods, allowing the mother complete rest for at least a month and generally allowing the mother to remove herself from her regular duties.

The bottom line is that PPD/A is experienced globally and sufferers are certainly not alone. Cross-cultural collaborations might go a long way towards developing new methods of treatment and promoting protective measures.

One Response to “Postpartum Depression and Anxiety: A Global Perspective”

  1. Dyane Harwood

    I have felt very isolated with my suffering within the postpartum mood disorder community, although I live in North America.

    At six weeks postpartum, I was acutely manic and admitted myself into a psychiatric unit where I was diagnosed with postpartum onset bipolar disorder (PPBD). This postpartum mood disorder is not nearly as well known as every other PMAD, and it often gets blurred with postpartum psychosis. (While the two conditions can most definitely be connected, that is not always the case and that was not my experience.)

    I have been a mental health advocate writing about PPBD since 2007, and I lead free support groups for women with mood disorders. Most of the women in our current group are mothers with postpartum mood disorders including bipolar, depression, anxiety as well as birth trauma/PTSD.

    I’ve been a writer for almost twenty years, and my book “Birth of a New Brain – Healing with Postpartum Bipolar Disorder” with a foreword by Dr. Walker Karraa (author of the amazing book “Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth”) will be published in Fall, 2106 by Post Hill Press.

    I’ve felt compelled to write this book to reach other mothers who have suffered with PPBD, and I’m thrilled that I’ll have the opportunity to do so next year.

    Thank you for writing about postpartum mood disorders from a global perspective. I wish you the very best!

    take care.

    Dyane Leshin Harwood
    Founder, Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA)
    Santa Cruz County, CA Chapter