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Stigma of depression after giving birth keeps some from seeking help

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POSTED: April 19, 2007 5:00 a.m.
Although the birth of a new child is expected to trigger happiness and excitement, the experience leads some mothers to grief and despair.  
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, about 10 percent of new moms experience postpartum depression — a severe form of depression that develops in the first six months after giving birth.
Caused by a number of physical and emotional factors, postpartum depression produces levels of sadness, anxiety and restlessness that can halt a new mother’s ability to complete the most daily tasks.
While many mothers who struggle with the condition feel they have nowhere to turn, the Fraser Center’s Beyond Baby Blues is providing a new outlet for women in Liberty County.
BBB is a free, weekly program that allows new mothers to express their feelings and concerns in a group.  
“It’s really helpful if you’ve got postpartum depression to be able to meet with a group of peers and a counselor facilitator because there’s something cathartic about the sharing of stories,” Fraser Center Executive Director Dr. Alan Baroody said. “And if you connect with a peer or group, you can have some accountability. You can have someone to exercise with or give a little motivation.”
According to Baroody, the idea for the group came out of a Liberty County Health Planning Board meeting when doctors voiced concerns about the number of their patients coping with postpartum depression.
“They usually can prescribe the medications, but there is a lack of resources in terms of helping out with regard to counseling and group treatment,” he said.
With funding from church donations through the Mary Lou Fraser Foundation for Families, BBB counselor Jacqueline Cassidy began sessions at the Fraser Center in October.
Cassidy said she is a “facilitator” who provides women with literature on the condition and encourages them to speak openly about what is going on their lives. She calls each week an “open door.”
“It’s revolving, you can come in and come out,” the counselor said. “It’s an open group.”
Cassidy said she assists new mothers with getting support from friends and family, including involving fathers on the road to recovery.
“A lot of them that did come for the couple of months that we’ve had, they were successful because I gave them literature and they showed their boyfriend or husband and they finally understood what they were going through,” she said.
Despite the success stories, however, the number of women at the sessions has slowly decreased in recent months.
“It’s fluctuated,” Cassidy said. “In the beginning we had four or five women, but lately we haven’t had anybody.”
Both Cassidy and Baroody believe the shame attached to the condition is keeping women from attending.
“Having a baby is supposed to be a joyful experience and you’re supposed to rejoice in it,” Baroody said. “But when your mind is having negative thoughts about your baby and you’re feeling badly about it, almost to the point where you wished you hadn’t, then with that comes guilt and shame.”
He added many women are just unaware the help is available.  
“We know that the women are out there,” Baroody said. “It’s just getting the word out and getting them to make the phone call or come in the door.”
 

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