Postpartum depression affects one in every eight women during the first months after childbirth, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. So, according to radio host Craig Carton of New Jersey’s 101.5 FM, one in every eight women are “crazy to begin with.”
Carton’s comments reflect an unfortunate aspect of society: its ignorance in matters of mental health, particularly postpartum depression.
Carton recently criticized Mary Jo Codey, wife of New Jersey’s Acting Governor Richard Codey on the air. Carton suggested that women with postpartum depression should relax by smoking marijuana instead of, “putting their babies in microwaves.” He was referring to the governor’s recent task force on mental illness instead of spending money on medical marijuana, a pet-project of Carton’s, according to a columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer.
For some women, postpartum depression is not just a “phase” or the “baby blues;” it is a serious illness that endangers their own lives and the lives of their children. For example, Mrs. Codey said she had thoughts of drowning her baby or putting him in a microwave oven.
This isn’t because Mrs. Codey is some sort of monster. She is a 49-year-old mother of two, a teacher and a spokesperson for the nature and effects of mental illness.
“Mental illness has nothing to do with shame,” she said at a National Alliance for the Mentally Ill fundraiser. “The quality of an individual can be measured in goodness, generosity and kindness – not by a chemical imbalance called mental illness.”
Mine Ener, battling postpartum psychosis killed herself and her newborn child, born with Down Syndrome, in 2003. She was a well-liked professor at Villanova University, and administrators there recently decided to furnish a student lounge in the school’s library complete with a plaque dedicated to her.
There was protest from the community, alumni and some students about honoring the professor in this way. According to an article in The Philadelphia Inquirer, “Originally, Barbara K. Clement [Villanova’s spokeswoman] had said the plaque remembered Ener for her life and not for the ‘sickness’ of her last few days. She called the memorial an act of compassion and ‘a good thing.'”
After the outcry the University took down the plaque. They will instead commemorate Ener with a symposium on mental illness. This is an excellent compromise, educating people on this little-known, misunderstood illness.
Ener, like Codey, was not a deranged psychopath. She was a well-educated, dedicated professor caught in the maelstrom that is mental illness.
Currently in the U.S. House there is a bill entitled the Blocker-Stokes Act. According to a Philadelphia Inquirer editorial, the bill proposes funding for research on postpartum depression and psychosis and plans to provide services for families hurt by these diseases.
The bill has gone nowhere. There was an effort to re-introduce the bill, but so far that too has been fruitless.
In the case of postpartum depression it is easier to vilify the mother than acknowledge her illness. We would rather think these women are few and far between and “crazy to begin with,” transforming respected individuals into heartless murderers. This could not be further from the truth. Postpartum depression is common in new mothers and there needs to be more treatment and information available to those afflicted with the disease.
In an interview with the Houston Chronicle, Codey said, “There was nothing out there. There was not one book. I made up my mind in the psychiatrist’s office, if I ever got out of it, I would educate the public about it.”
How many women, children and families must fall victim to this illness before society acknowledges it as an illness, not a rarity?
Carolyn Steeves can be reached at email@example.com.