Postpartum Depression and Self-Medication
Something happened personal to me and it inspired me to do some research on postpartum depression. I myself never experienced this, but experts say as many as 1 in 7 women suffer from this after giving birth. It can last weeks, months, even up to a year if left untreated.
You see, a casual friend of mine (I’ll call her Sarah) and her two children went missing on Christmas day. They were found in a field 24 hours later. The car was left running, and Sarah’s 5-month-old son was still sitting in his car seat. Sarah’s 3-year-old daughter was laying on her mother. The girl had been hit in the head by a bullet fragment and is still in the ICU at the time of this writing. Both children were treated for hypothermia and are expected to recover.
However, Sarah will not. She died on Christmas day, apparently by a self-inflicted gunshot wound. She was still suffering from postpartum depression 5 months after the birth of her son. It is unknown why she decided to take her children with her. The bullet fragment in the girl’s skull appears to be an accidental wound caused by her mother’s gunshot. This means that she very near her mother when she shot herself. Based on the few things I know, I’m willing to bet she was suffering from something even worse – postpartum psychosis.
Signs/Symptoms of Postpartum Depression
Postpartum depression symptoms go above and beyond what some merely call “the baby blues”. They may include:
- Depressed mood/mood swings
- Excessive crying
- Difficulty bonding with the baby
- Social withdrawal
- Loss of appetite/dietary changes
- Sleep disturbances
- Fatigue/energy loss
- Lack of interest in previously-enjoyed activities
- Intense irritability/anger
- Fear/feels of being a poor parent
- Feelings of worthlessness, guilt, inadequacy
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Troubling thoughts of oneself or baby/children
- Suicidal thoughts
- Obsessive thoughts about the baby
- Sleep disturbances
- Attempts to harm oneself and/or baby/children
- Suicidal ideations and life-threatening behaviors
Treatment and Self-Medication
I am unsure at this time what treatment, if any, Sarah was receiving for postpartum depression. Her actions are so irrational, however, it’s easy to believe that whatever it was, it was not enough. To my knowledge Sarah didn’t drink much or engage in drug abuse of any kind. However, it’s very common for women suffering from this mental illness to look to substances for relief.
Motherhood is held on a pedestal as the ultimate roll one can play for their children. Women going through this sort of depression often don’t understand their thoughts, and feel often guilty about them. They may feel apathetic about their children or motherhood, and have thoughts or feelings that are considered taboo. They are afraid to seek help and worry about what others think. Thus, they often turn to alcohol, prescription drugs, and sometimes, even illicit drugs.
Also, many women do seek treatment, but may end up on painkillers, anti-anxiety medications, and sleeping aids. Moreover, medicines which may be addictive, and contribute to the problem on some level. I can’t help but think, however, that nothing would be worse than what happened to Sarah. Battling an addiction would have been an improvement over dying at age 27 in front of her child. Whatever she was trying to avoid, it may have contributed to her actions in the end. We will probably never know. I don’t advocate these drugs in general due to their addictive properties, but occasionally, they are necessary to sustain life.
If you or someone you know is an addict or alcoholic, please seek help immediately.