Category Archives: SSRI

Meeting Enemies Undaunted

Last night, when I took to my keyboard to write “Finding Life at the End of My Comfort Zone”, I did not need to write it to complete my 500 words for the day. It was just time to admit what had gone on in my life for the past year and how I was coping. After I hit publish, I exhaled. Finally. It was all out. For me, part of healing is being open and transparent.

Not more than a couple of minutes after hitting publish, the post received a comment from someone who has never commented here. It was held in moderation, and I will not be publishing it as a comment. I am, however, going to publish it here, addressing why it is a highly inappropriate response to my post yesterday.

The entire comment is as follows:

Hi! I think that it’s great you’re taking medications to help yourself but I am so sure that you can do so much more awesome things than taking medicine. I am one of those who don’t step outside my comfort zone as well and you know stepping outside the first couple of steps are the hardest but gradually you’ll become stronger to keep pushing yourself forward. You should try meditation it’s not religious at all too. It’s a practice to obtain peace and can really reduce stress. I believe you can do it, you just have to tell yourself that you’re strong enough! I wish you good luck of your journey! :)

You ready to analyze it? I am.

Let’s start with the greeting and the first sentence:

Hi! I think that it’s great you’re taking medications to help yourself but I am so sure that you can do so much more awesome things than taking medicine.

Notice the cheery greeting, complete with exclamation point. She’s HAPPY! She thinks it’s awesome that I’m taking medications to help myself BUT.. wait…. what’s this? She’s sure I can do so much more awesome things than taking medication? Really? Based on what sound evidence? Is she a physician? Has she discovered some amazing new way to deal with situational depression brought on by an insane amount of stress in a short period of time?

*GASPS* Wait – I know! I should have stuck with just my HappyLight, regular rest and relaxation, supplements, and prayed harder, right? Right? *smacks forehead* I totally failed that one, right?

She then goes for the “I relate to you” sentiment with this line:

I am one of those who don’t step outside my comfort zone as well and you know stepping outside the first couple of steps are the hardest but gradually you’ll become stronger to keep pushing yourself forward.

Oh really? Preach on, sister, preach on. That’s how it works, huh? After two episode of PP OCD, an episode of antepartum depression, post-divorce depression, I had NO clue that the first couple of steps were the hardest. I’ve been through the “gradually you’ll become stronger” thing and know that it’s a hard process. I also know that pushing yourself forward is necessary for progress. Of course, these are all things I thought I addressed in my post which, clearly she read because she commented, right?

Perhaps there’s a solution of which she’s aware that I haven’t thought of yet?

There is!

You should try meditation it’s not religious at all too. It’s a practice to obtain peace and can really reduce stress.

Aaaaaaand here’s where it gets fun, people.

Never mind the call I made to a medical professional after fighting on my own for months against the beast inside me, a beast egged on by the stress of living with very negative neighbors who attacked us verbally or intimidated almost every time we stepped outside and wild children who screamed and yelled outside our condo until the wee hours of the morning, interfering with any chance of sleep at night in addition to an insane amount of anxiety through the day.

Never mind the discussion I had with her during which I stuttered, nervously spilling all the details of the hell in which I found myself, fighting back the urge to completely lose it as I did so.

Never mind the years of school and practice my Nurse Practitioner has under her belt which allowed her to have a very compassionate discussion with me about my current state of mind and what my options were to fix it while calming me down at the same time.

We discussed the possibility of therapy but we cannot afford a weekly therapy session right now because we are not insured. But meds which have worked before were an option. So after two weeks of working my way up to making the call, I walked into a pharmacy and picked up a bottle of pills, feeling as if I were less than a toddler’s forgotten cheerio stuck in a couch cushion.

Apparently, what I should have done instead was head over to YouTube and find a meditation video. Boom. All better, right?

An article in Forbes earlier this month touts the benefits of meditation as rivaling that of anti-depressants. The study in the article specifically focuses on “mindfulness meditation” as the preferred form. If it works for you, fabulous. Kudos. I am a huge fan of doing whatever works for you.

Here’s the thing about depression and mental health issues, however: there are a myriad of treatments available because we are not all built alike nor do we all arrive at our diagnosis via the same path. We also do not find our road to wellness along the same path.

Don’t even get me started on the entire religious aspect of this comment. Let’s leave that out of it because we wouldn’t want to offend anyone, would we? (Which is clearly why she specified that meditation is not religious, right?)

Since my brush with Postpartum Mood Disorders, my life is increasingly mindful. In fact, over the past year, I am healthier mentally than at any time in my life. How can I make that claim despite being on anti-depressants now? Mental health does not always mean happy. To me, what it means is a deep understanding of why things happen and accepting what you need to do in order to move beyond them. It means the capability to examine events in your life and hold a healthy response even if it does not lead to joy. The path back to joy, motivation, and yourself is a personal road and no one beside your physician has the right to tell you how to get there. It is YOUR road map, not anyone else’s.

Of course, blogging about my mental health opens me up to criticism and suggestions like this. Some might say that I “deserve” to have comments like this. No one deserves to be told what to do, not even if they’re asking for advice and particularly not if they are opening up about their choices they have already made.

Telling someone that they SHOULD do something other than what they have chosen to do with the help of a medical professional is beyond reprehensible. Making the decision to reach out for help  – to admit you are not okay to a medical professional is an absolutely nerve-wracking experience.

I cannot help that someone who would dare to judge someone else’s road has never traveled down a similar road. Because if they had traveled down this road, they would know how detrimental it can be to be judged for their decisions as they fight to get well.

She wraps up her comment with a much better outlook:

I believe you can do it, you just have to tell yourself that you’re strong enough! I wish you good luck of your journey! :)

Yay. Cheerleading! RAH RAH SISK OOM BAH!

Had she skipped the whole rigamarole about “more awesome than medication” and “try meditation instead” this would have been a perfectly awesome comment. THIS is a perfectly acceptable response to someone admitting they’ve settled on a method of treatment for a mental health issue. It empowers, supports, and encourages without judging the decisions of the person.

So, after all of this – how do you perfectly respond to someone who is struggling and has settled on a method of treatment? It’s hidden in this very comment.

Like this:

“Hi! I believe you can do it, you just have to tell yourself that you’re strong enough! I am one of those who don’t step outside my comfort zone as well and you know stepping outside the first couple of steps are the hardest but gradually you’ll become stronger to keep pushing yourself forward. I wish you good luck of your journey! :)”

Now this is how you support someone!

You support by offering encouragement, compassion, and empowering the person who is fighting like hell to be themselves again.

If someone proffers judgment on your treatment choices, do not let it deter you from your healing. You are in the driver’s seat and decide what exit is yours on this interstate of life, not anyone else, and definitely not a stranger who knows absolutely nothing about why you’re in the car to begin with.

A friend of mine said it best on FB, typos and all:

“Hugs. Love. I Get Its. And no judgement here. Take your meds. Meditate if it helps ON your meds. But fuck everyone else and their well-meaning yet severely judgmental opinions. Just do what’s fight for you.”

That’s what I’m doing – fighting for me, always.

Therapy Choices for the Postpartum Woman

Once diagnosed with a Postpartum Mood Disorder, you are then faced with a literal bevy of choices regarding your path to wellness.

Some doctors may toss pills at you. If that happens, run. Run very fast and very far away from any physician who shoves anti-depressants your way before you’ve even finished describing what’s wrong. A good prescribing doctor will sit down with you and hear you out before grabbing for his pen and pad (or these days, keyboard and internet connection). A good physician should also run a couple of simple blood tests first to rule out thyroid disorders or anemia which need completely different types of medication to show improvement.

Some doctors may suggest psychotherapy. And that is where things start to get a little sticky. What kind of talk therapy? Will there be a couch? Will it be comfy? Will I have to talk about how my Great Aunt Edna used to kiss me on the cheeks and leave funny lipstick stains? Will I have to talk about things not related at all to my current state of mind? Will I be hypnotized? Or any other strange mumbo jumbo I’ve seen happen on TV or in the movies or from my best friend who found this website and…

Hold the phone there.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy proved to be the best option out there for me. There was a couch but I didn’t lay down on it. I sat cross-legged on it as I drank coffee and chatted with my therapist. She sat in a really cool rocking chair with a foot stool. I got along fabulously with my therapist. That’s not to say we were bestest of buds but she knew what she was doing, just let me talk and work a lot of my issues out. I did occasionally talk about things in my past but it wasn’t at all like “So, you were born… let’s start there.” She met me where I was and let things fall where they fell. Or at least she seemed to. She did ask questions to get me to think about issues and how I was reacting to them. I had not planned on staying in therapy for long but once I became pregnant again, I made the decision to stay in through my pregnancy. Therapy gradually stopped at about 6 months postpartum of that pregnancy as we scaled our sessions back.

While I will not be covering every single last type of therapy out there, my goal is to provide some basic information for the most common therapies  used with Postpartum women.

At the top of the list is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy which is actually a blanket term for several types of therapies with similar traits. Primarily Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) promotes that WE have power over our moods through our thoughts. You can read more about it by clicking here. A great resource now available for women and clinicians alike when it comes to treating Postpartum Depression is Karen Kleiman’s Therapy and the Postpartum Woman. You can read more about it by clicking here. (In the interest of full disclosure now required by the FTC, I have not been compensated at all for including this link. I sincerely believe it’s a good resource.)

EMDR or Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing is gaining popularity as an option. EMDR is most effective with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. You can read more about this approach by clicking here.

Peer Support/Group therapy is also an option. The primary benefit of this option is the realization it provides to women of not being alone. They really aren’t the only ones having a panic attack when they get in a car or experiencing frightening thoughts prancing through their mind at the most inopportune moments. Many times this option is a cost-effective option as well because many groups do not charge. A group led by a therapist may only charge a small fee such as $10-15 for attending. While peer support should absolutely not replace professional medical care for Postpartum Mood Disorders, it is an important aspect to add to recovery. If your area does not have a local peer group, you can find help online. The Online PPD Support Page has a very active forum for postpartum women. You can also visit the iVillage Postpartum or the Pregnant & Depressed/Mental Illness Boards. (Shameless plug on the iVillage boards, I am the Community Leader for both.) Another bonus of peer support? It reduces the recovery time.

Pharmaceutical therapy is also an available option. Some women are against taking medication and that’s perfectly okay. No one should ever be forced to take medication. Typically, pharmaceutical therapy is paired with another type of therapy. In fact, combining pharmaceutical therapy with a type of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has proven to be one of the most successful approaches for the Postpartum Woman. Sinead O’Connor really put it best during an appearance on Oprah in regards to the function of psychiatric medications. They are the scaffolding holding you up as you revamp yourself. There are risks involved with taking medications and you should absolutely educate yourself, talk with your doctor, and if you end up deciding to take medication, be sure to inform your child’s pediatrician if you are nursing so they can be involved in monitoring for any potential issues.You should also familiarize yourself with the symptoms of Serotonin Syndrome, a fast-acting reaction which occurs for some people when they do not metabolize medication quickly enough. The build up results in a severe toxic situation. You should also avoid stopping any pharmaceutical therapy without consulting with a physician. Stopping suddenly can cause very negative symptoms similar to Serotonin Syndrome. If you have any signs or symptoms of Serotonin Syndrome, get medical help immediately.

For more serious cases of Postpartum Depression that do not respond to medication, Electroconvulsive Therapy may be suggested. ECT has come a long way since the 50’s and is a viable choice for many women who do not respond to medication. Now, I am not saying that if you choose not to take medication, you’ll be given ECT. This is for women with severe depression who cannot metabolize or do not respond at all to medication. Choosing not to take medication does not buy you an ECT ticket at all.

For women who want to use a more natural approach, there are a lot of choices. Again though, I have to urge you to make sure you are seeing a professional during your recovery. Don’t take something because it worked well for Aunt Martha. Check with your doctor and make sure it’s applicable to your situation and okay for you to take in combination with any other medication you may already be taking. Be sure your naturalist or herbalist is licensed and trained. You’ll also want to make sure that any herbs/natural supplements you are taking are compatible with breastfeeding if you are doing so. You can visit the blog over at Rebuild from Depression for a food/diet based approach.

Note: I had a reader, Steve, from Noblu.org leave a comment regarding IPT or Interpersonal Therapy. You can click here to read his comment. Thanks, Steve, for stopping by and sharing your knowledge with us!

As you can see, there are a lot of options available if you are diagnosed with a Postpartum Mood Disorder. More and more practitioners are becoming familiar with these disorders. More help is available today than even 6 years ago when I was first diagnosed. Remember to ask questions when choosing a therapist, advocate for yourself and what best fits your personal lifestyle philosophy. Don’t settle just because you want to heal. You have the power to say no. It’s your body, your mind, your say.

Tomorrow we’ll be discussing some things you can do on your own to help your recovery along. Stay tuned!

Just Talkin’ Tuesday: The MOTHER’S Act

LegislationOn February 23, 2001, Melanie Stokes gave birth to a baby girl. Just three months later, she committed suicide. Melanie’s death gave birth to a very dedicated activist – her mother, Carol Blocker. Frustrated with the failure of physicians to appropriately care for her daughter, Carol worked endlessly to keep Melanie’s tragic death from becoming meaningless. Through Carol’s tireless advocacy and work with Representative Bobby Rush (IL), the Melanie Blocker Stokes Act has now become The MOTHER’S Act.

The MOTHER’S Act as it reads in the current version would provide funds for a public awareness campaign, education campaign for caregivers, increase availability of treatment options and entities as well as require the current Secretary of Health & Human Services to conduct a study regarding the validity of screening for Postpartum Mood & Anxiety Disorders.

More and more research is slowly uncovering potential underlying causes and risks related to Postpartum Mood & Anxiety Disorders. More and more women and caregivers are becoming educated as more of those who have survived a PMAD speak up to share our story.

If passed, The MOTHER’S Act would further reduce the stigma surrounding new mothers not ensconced in the Johnson & Johnson glow of infantdom. If passed, the MOTHER’S Act would increase funding for research and possibly open even more doors to understanding the cause and more importantly, the potential for truly preventing Postpartum Mood & Anxiety Disorders. If passed, the MOTHER’S Act has the potential to prevent tragic deaths like that of Melanie Blocker Stokes.

Much of the debate surrounding the MOTHER’S Act has centered on the word “medication.” Medication does not necessarily mean Anti-depressants. It does not mean this is the ONLY way to treat a PMAD. It is merely listed as an option for treatment. And frankly, if one has a doctor with a quicker draw on his/her prescription pad than Billy the Kidd, I’d run away. I’d run away faster than a cheetah.

Another key point of the opposition has been that the MOTHER’S Act mandates screening. In the current version, there is no mandate for screening. The only mention of screening is to require the Secretary of Health & Human Services to conduct a study regarding the validity of screening for Postpartum Mood & Anxiety Disorders. The current standard for screening is the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, which you can learn more about here.

You can read a copy of the current bill by clicking here.

Go read it. (Don’t worry – it’ll pop up in a new tab/window – I’m cool like that here)

Seriously. Read. The. Bill.

Then read it again.

And then come back here. Be honest.

Unlike this week’s TIME article which failed to present both sides, I promise to allow unedited comments in support of or opposing the bill as long as they are civil. (Any comments including personal attacks will NOT be allowed!)

So let’s get to Just Talkin’ Tuesday already!

TIME Magazine misfires debate on MOTHER’S Act

Awhile back, I was contacted by Catherine Elton regarding an article which was to examine Postpartum Depression and the Mother’s Act. The email somehow got buried and I did not get a chance to participate in the discussion.

It seems that it would not have mattered if I had been able to discuss my story with her.

Time published the story this week. While the online version has been modified to correct an error with Ms. Amy Philo’s story, you can still see the original version in the hard copy. (Which by the way, I am personally asking you to boycott – even asking if you can take the copy of TIME home from the doctor’s office in order to keep other moms from reading it! And make sure you ASK – because just taking it would be stealing and that’s illegal.)

The original version, entitled “The Melancholy of Motherhood” includes one quote from Carole Blocker, the mother of Melanie Blocker Stokes, a mother who tragically committed suicide after unsuccessful treatment for severe postpartum depression after the birth of her daughter. The quote reflects Ms. Blocker’s confusion as to how someone could oppose the MOTHER’S Act, a bill which is designed to increase public and professional education regarding Postpartum Mood & Anxiety Disorders. Frankly, I’m confused right along with Ms. Blocker.

The only survivor story featured in this article is that of Amy Philo, one of five recipients of an Outstanding Achievement for Mothers’ and Children’s Rights awards from the Citizens Commision on Human Rights or CCHR. CCHR was founded in 1969 by none other than the Church of Scientology, well-known to oppose the entire psychiatric field.

Amy has tirelessly worked against this bill for quite some time now but continues to be tragically misled. Few discussions with her have led to quite the round robin with Amy unable to come up with legitimate research to back up her claims. When asked for said research, Amy refers to her own websites instead of to specific research articles supporting her claims.

I happen to know that Ms. Elton did indeed interview fellow survivors who support the bill. One has to wonder then, why did their stories not make it into the article? Was it length? Was it editing? Or was it intentional? Regardless, the finished piece as published presents a very frightening and deceiptful picture of what new mothers face is this bill is passed. To begin with, the MOTHER’S Act no longer mandates screening. It requires a study to be completed by the Secretary of Health and Human Services (Kathleen Sebelius) as well as funds for an educational campaign for both caregivers and the general public.

I agree that just because a new mother shows emotion she should not immediately be diagnosed as having a PMAD. I also believe that a woman should have free choice when it comes to her treatment decisions and should NOT be judged for those choices. I chose to take Anti-depressants. My first prescription did not work out. But my second one did. Just as with any other medication, sometimes they don’t work so well with your system. So you try another one. You don’t suddenly take your own care into your hands – that’s ridiculous. Would you try to heal a broken leg or diabetes on your own? No? I didn’t think so. So why would you rely solely on self-care when it comes to mental illness? Self-care should be part of the picture but it shouldn’t be the ONLY part of the picture.

I am so tired of being judged and accused of not having informed consent. You know what? When I made my decision to go on Anti-Depressants, I had carried around an informational packet about AD’s & Breastfeeding given to me by the NICU Lactation Consultant with me for a week. I read that thing through and through. I was exclusively pumping for my daughter at the time and did not want to jeopardize her receiving my milk if I ended up having to take something. But I couldn’t function. I couldn’t take care of my family, I couldn’t take care of myself, and a lot of the same thoughts were coming back. Negative, scary thoughts about knives and hurting myself and my family. Yet I wasn’t on anti-depressants. I needed to be able to function. So I made a very informed decision to do so, one I do not regret to this day.

TIME – I am very disappointed in your lack of sharing both sides of this debate. Very very disappointed.

Just Talking Tuesday 07.07.09: Anti-depressants or Not?

original photo by thegirlsmoma @ flicker

original photo by thegirlsmoma @ flicker

Today’s topic was inspired by a post over at Postpartum Progress: You don’t NEED Anti-depressants, Do You?

In this post, Katherine discusses the lack of stigmatization regarding pharmeceutical treatment for medical conditions in response to a ScienceBlogs post you can find here.

Anti-depressants are stigmatized. Period. Nitro-glycerin or insulin? Not so much. Why? Just as Anti-depressants may work for me, they may not work for you. And if you have the wrong heart condition and take nitro-glycerin, things may not go your way either. But you don’t hear people judging others for being on nitro-glycerin, now do you? And insulin? Many Diabetics require this life-saving medication. Even pain medication after an injury – do you question that prescription? Most don’t and certainly aren’t stigmatized for taking it because let’s face it – a broken leg hurts – something we all understand.

Mental illness hurts too. It hurts the person suffering. It hurts the people around them. And if the right medication is paired with the right therapy, it can make a world of difference. Why then, are we stigmatized or accused of not understanding informed consent for deciding (of our own free will) to take medication as we heal? What makes the scaffolding of Anti-depressants any different than pain medication as a broken leg heals?

So I’m posing a pretty big question today. And I expect there will be a bit of debate about it – which is good…our different opinions are what keep us interesting! Just keep things polite. No hateful, judgemental or fear-centered comments will be approved.

Do/did you or don’t/didn’t you take Anti-depressants? Why? Why not?

And more importantly – IS it your place to tell someone else they absolutely SHOULD not take them if you don’t believe in them or have had a bad experience? Or should you calmly refer them to research that explains the risks vs. benefits and let them make the decision on their own WITH a professional on board?

Let’s get to Just Talkin’!

Tips on Identifying Reliable Health Information on the Internet

If you’ve landed here as a result of a Google, Yahoo,  Bing, or other search engine, you already know how many results you can get in mere seconds and even sometimes nano-seconds. Thousands! So you wade through the results hoping for reliable and trustworthy information. Unfortunately, not everything out there is reliable and trustworthy. And even if it is reliable and trustworthy, you should ALWAYS check with a professional prior to implementing or stopping any treatment.

Here are some general tips to help you tell the good from the bad (source: Medical Library Association):

1. Sponsorship
  • Can you easily identify the site sponsor? Sponsorship is important because it helps establish the site as respected and dependable. Does the site list advisory board members or consultants? This may give you further insights on the credibility of information published on the site.
  • The web address itself can provide additional information about the nature of the site and the sponsor’s intent.
    • A government agency has .gov in the address.
    • An educational institution is indicated by .edu in the address.
    • A professional organization such as a scientific or research society will be identified as .org. For example, the American Cancer Society’s website is http://www.cancer.org/.
    • Commercial sites identified by .com will most often identify the sponsor as a company, for example Merck & Co., the pharmaceutical firm.
  • What should you know about .com health sites? Commercial sites may represent a specific company or be sponsored by a company using the web for commercial reasons—to sell products. At the same time, many commercial websites have valuable and credible information. Many hospitals have .com in their address. The site should fully disclose the sponsor of the site, including the identities of commercial and noncommercial organizations that have contributed funding, services, or material to the site.
2. Currency
  • The site should be updated frequently. Health information changes constantly as new information is learned about diseases and treatments through research and patient care. websites should reflect the most up-to-date information.
  • The website should be consistently available, with the date of the latest revision clearly posted. This usually appears at the bottom of the page.
3. Factual information
  • Information should be presented in a clear manner. It should be factual (not opinion) and capable of being verified from a primary information source such as the professional literature, abstracts, or links to other web pages.
  • Information represented as an opinion should be clearly stated and the source should be identified as a qualified professional or organization.
4. Audience
  • The website should clearly state whether the information is intended for the consumer or the health professional.
  • Many health information websites have two different areas – one for consumers, one for professionals. The design of the site should make selection of one area over the other clear to the user.

MLA’s guidelines are an excellent starting point and should be used by anyone searching for Medical information on the internet. Many caregivers will also tell you to not search the web for information, especially if you have a Postpartum Mood Disorder. If you have a question and feel overwhelmed with doing research on your own, get in touch with a Postpartum Support International Coordinator, your midwife, or your doctor, and ask for help in doing research. Sometimes you may come across research or news stories that are not applicable to your situation that may cause triggering thoughts or increase your fear and anxiety without justification.

Another great way to check the reliability of a website is to do so through HONcode. HONcode, Health on the Net certifies websites with healthcare information. Their standards are pretty high and they certify on a random basis once a website has been accepted. (I’m currently working on acheiving this certification for this blog myself). Through HONcode, as a patient/consumer, you can download a toolbar or search directly from their site and will only be given websites that have been approved by them. Click here to learn more about the safety process at HONcode.

I also want to take a moment to mention that a good doctor or advocate will be compassionate, understanding, and work with you regarding your desired route of treatment. Good Caregivers and Advocates are able to stay objective and not allow personal experience to cloud their aid to those who seek their help. This does not dismiss advocates who have specialized knowledge of certain types of treatment however – what I mean by this statement is that if you approach and advocate with a question regarding an Anti-Depressant, they should direct you to research regarding that particular medication and encourage you to also speak with your caregiver. They should NOT bash said medication because they’ve had a bad experience with it. If the caregiver or advocate is not compassionate but instead dismisses or attacks your desired treatment methods, it’s time to find another caregiver or advocate for support.

As a Postpartum Support International Coordinator myself, I work very hard to support the journey the mother is on and the treatment route that best fits with her personal philosophy. I encourage the involvement of professionals – including her OB or midwife, a psychiatrist, and a therapist. I also encourage Mom to take time for herself, something we all forget to do from time to time, but is very important for our mental well-being.

So please remember to:

Thoroughly check the source of the information you are reading online using the above guidelines from the Medical Library Association as well as searching via HONcode for your information.

Double-check any information regarding starting treatment or stopping treatment with your professional caregiver prior to implementation.

Make sure your caregiver respects your opinion regarding your body. (You are of course, your #1 expert in this area!) If he/she fails to respect you, although it may be difficult, find another caregiver who DOES respect you!

Take time for yourself as you heal.

Adrienne Einarson responds to Vogue’s “Pregnant Pause”

On April 29, I posted a piece entitled Thoughts on exploring a “Pregnant PauseFocused on an article appearing in this month’s Vogue magazine, I methodically refuted and balanced the article’s bias against medicating with anti-depressants during pregnancy.

Yesterday morning I woke up to find an email notification regarding a new comment on the piece. The author? None other than Adrienne Einarson, one of the most dedicated researchers in the field of SSRI usage during the prenatal period. Adrienne currently serves as Coordinator for the International Reproductive Psychiatry group at Motherisk in Toronto. She has published several studies in her areas of interest which include psychiatry, nausea and vomiting of pregnancy, and alternative medicine. Her RN specialities include psychiatry and midwifery.

Adrienne’s comment deserves its own post. Her voice deserves to be heard. She states up front that she does not often comment or blog but that the bias of the Vogue article upset her so greatly she felt the need to speak out. This letter has been sent to Vogue but has not received any response as of yet. (I have also submitted my piece directly to Vogue but also have not received a response.) She has granted permission for me to share her letter directly with you.

“I do this because I care about women who have to go through this and if my research can help, I will continue doing it.” ~Adrienne Einarson~

Without further ado, I give you Adrienne Einarson’s response to Vogue’s “Pregnant Pause”:

I am writing to you on behalf of an international group of individuals who are involved with reproductive mental health, as either clinicians, researchers and in some cases both. We would like to voice our concerns regarding your recent piece entitled “Pregnant Pause,” which we felt, did not achieve a balanced perspective on this issue, which was surprising to us, coming as it did from such a highly esteemed publication as Vogue.

We appreciate that you decided to do a piece on this often controversial issue, which can make deciding whether or not to take an antidepressant when pregnant, an extremely complicated decision for both the patient and her health care provider. However, we were very disappointed by the extremely biased approach that you took when writing this article. First of all, the data that you quoted is not as recent as you stated, these studies were published in 2005/2006, they were preliminary and the results have not been confirmed in more recent published papers, which you brushed off as not being important.

It is unfortunate that the women you quoted in your piece, thought that they had a baby with a heart defect because they took Paxil® and are suffering unnecessary guilt because of it, as if women don’t have enough to feel guilty about already in these complicated times. You acknowledged that there are probably 250,000 pregnant women taking antidepressants in the US, and you must understand before you can make any conclusions, that 1-3% of all pregnancies involve a baby with a birth defect of some kind, whether a woman takes any medications or not and 1/100 babies are born with a heart defect. That is why, researchers who conduct the best quality studies, use a group of exposed women (taking an antidepressant) with a group of unexposed woman (not taking an antidepressant) and compare the rates of adverse events in both groups. The studies that were conducted in this fashion, did not find a difference in the rates of malformations between the groups, including heart defects with Paxil®. Bottom line, if you do the simple math, it is evident that a large number of women would have had a baby with a defect whether they took an antidepressant or not, including the women in your article.

Another disturbing theme that came up several times in the article, is that physicians hand out antidepressants like candy, and physicians in our group were most offended by this statement as they are very careful about prescribing antidepressants and would not give them to someone who not does not require treatment. Every decision is made with great care, all the while weighing the risks/benefits of antidepressant treatment, and especially with pregnant women, ultimately to ensure the best possible outcome for both the baby and the mother.

Finally, and I am sure this was not your intention, several of our group members who are psychiatrists have reported that their pregnant patients have decided to stop taking their antidepressant since they read your article and I will leave you with one example of the damage you may have caused by this highly biased and often inaccurate article.

After reading this article, a woman called her psychiatrist and informed her that she was not going to take her Prozac anymore. She had had no less than seven consultations with psychologists and psychiatrists and all had agreed that she needed to be on medication because of her severe depression and possibility of suicide and concern in the post-partum period. She had finally agreed to go on the medication and at 34 weeks she was doing very well and looking forward to the birth of her baby and then read your article…………

Adrienne Einarson, Coordinator, The International Reproductive Psychiatry group

Thoughts on exploring a “Pregnant Pause”

An article in May’s issue of Vogue entitled “Pregnant Pause” by Alexis Jetter attempts to provide insight into the very confusing world of the pharmacological treatment of depression or mental illness during pregnancy. Ms. Jetter seems to have done her homework. She brings up some very valid points, includes supportive research, referring to specific studies all framed within a heart-tugging story of a boy born with a heart defect as a result of his Mom taking Paxil during her pregnancy. Yet Ms. Jetter forgets to tell both sides of the story. Here’s my take on the article.

In no way am I belittling this Mom’s experience by rebutting some of Ms. Jetter’s claims. As a Mom of a special needs child, I know first-hand how difficult life becomes as you work with and around your child’s needs. I also understand the enveloping guilt which rages inside you every time you see your child suffer or struggle and wonder “Did I do that? Was it my fault?”

You see, I didn’t take my pre-natal vitamins during my second pregnancy. At first it was because of the wretched morning sickness. Then I just didn’t want to take them. I even pondered what would happen if I didn’t take them, thinking it would be a neat little “experiment” to find out.

When my daughter was born with Pierre Robin Sequence which included a complete and bilateral cleft of her hard and soft palate, I felt a guilt that cannot begin to be described by any words known to mankind. It took me nearly two years to admit this to anyone. I lied at the hospital when I was asked if I had taken my prenatal vitamins. Why? Because I knew from my mom’s quick research about PRS that lack of folic acid in the maternal diet increases the risk for this particular condition. The last thing I needed was for the doctors to also blame me for my monumentally bad judgment. Looking back, I’m pretty sure this erratic behavior was directly related to my untreated issues with Postpartum OCD/Depression after the birth of our first daughter.

To this day as my daughter struggles with speech, socialization, and a myriad of other challenges, I still blame myself somewhat. Intellectually I know her problems are not my fault. I have accepted this on that level. But a small part of me will always wonder if she would have these problems if I had just taken my vitamins. So I get it. I get the guilt, I get the hind-sight. I get the anger and outrage. And I definitely get the need for education and informed consent.

What I don’t get is the desire to limit treatment options for other people. Instead of limiting, let’s encourage the development and shared knowledge of non-pharmacological therapies for mild cases of depression during pregnancy such as altering your diet, increasing exercise, natural supplements, psychotherapy, to name a few. Instead of judging, let’s allow women to make their own decisions regarding their mental health treatment. (you can read more on my thoughts regarding the ante-partum medication conundrum here)

Just as with those who are passionate for home-birth and those who are passionate for breastfeeding, there is a caution to be heeded here. We cannot convince a woman who is determined to have a caesarean section to have home-birth just as we cannot convince a woman who is convinced that a pill will solve her problems to try other therapies. All we can do is provide the education, statistics, and support. Then we need to step out of the way and let the woman make the decision with her medical professional team.

We can only fix ourselves, not those around us.

Now, onto the meat of the article, if you will.

After we meet Gina Fromm and hear of her difficult experience as a result of taking Paxil during her pregnancy, we are introduced to Dr. Anick Berard, PhD and Professor of Pharmacy at the University of Montreal. He discusses his study on Paxil, concluding that “..now other people have done the studies, too. And I’m much more comfortable saying that Paxil is a bad drug to take during pregnancy.”

Really, Dr. Berard?

I found a more recent study undertaken by none other than Dr. Anick Berard which concludes that unless the dose of Paxil is above 25mg during the first trimester, Paxil usage is not associated with an increase in congenital cardiac malformations when compared with non-SSRI usage. (Typical therapeutic dosage for Paxil can range anywhere from 10mg to 40mg.) When researching it’s not difficult to find studies to contradict one another but when you find them from the same researcher it’s a bit odd.

Next we meet Carol Louik, Sc.D, author of one of the two studies released in June of 2007 extolling the small risk SSRI’s posed to the human fetus. Turns out Carol’s study was partially funded by GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi Aventis, and another Pharmaceutical Company. However, at the same time Carol’s study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, another study was also published. This study was coordinated by the CDC out of Atlanta and did not have any financial disclosures to the Pharmaceutical Companies. Sura Alwan, MSc, and Jennita Reefhuis, RN, were first and senior authors respectively. Their study concluded the absolute risk of exposure vs. non-exposure not to be much different than the standard baseline risk for defects in any healthy pregnancy.

But the Alwan/Reffhuis study results are not present in the Vogue article.

Then we’re tossed this golden nugget – “….SSRI usage dramatically increases the chances that a baby may be miscarried, born prematurely or too small, suffer erratic heartbeats, and have trouble breathing.” The author further states that “Taken together the NEW research caught many experts by surprise.” Yet most of the research articles I located by the researchers quoted were from 2006 or earlier. This is hardly NEW research. In fact, the NEW research contradicts many of the studies referenced in the Vogue Article.

For instance, we’re informed through a quote from Dr. Adam Urato, M.D. That “these antidepressants are portrayed almost like prenatal vitamins that will level out their mood and lead to a healthier baby. But antidepressants have not been shown to decrease rates of miscarriage or birth defects or low birth weight. On the contrary, they’ve been shown to increase those problems.” Then directly after this quote, Ms. Jetters states pregnant women are routinely excluded from clinical tests of new drugs. But she fails to ask a very important question.

Why?

A solid answer can be found in the February 2009 Carlat Psychiatry Report, an unbiased report regarding all things psychiatry related, including medication. According to an article entitled “Psychotropics and Pregnancy: An Update,” the Carlat Psychiatry Report states “the gold standard study will never occur. It will never be ethically permissible to enroll pregnant women into a randomized, placebo controlled trial designed to determine if a drug causes birth defects. For this reason, we are left with less than ideal methods of determining risk.”

To seemingly substantiate Dr. Urato’s quote regarding miscarriage, birth defects, or low birth weight, a study performed by Developmental Pediatrician Tim Oberlander, M.D. At the University of British Columbia is briefly examined. This study concluded after tracking the birth outcomes of 120,000 women that infants exposed to SSRI’s prenatally were born too small and have trouble breathing. Oberlander’s quoted conclusion for the article? “It’s not the mother’s mood,” Oberlander says. “It’s the medication.”

Yet Oberlander’s study is negated by Einarson’s study, “Evaluation of the Risk of Congenital Cardiovascular Defects Associated With Use of Paroxetine During Pregnancy” Einarson also writes a letter to the American Journal of Psychiatry, (located in Vol. 64, No. 7, July 2007) which states the conclusions made by Oberlander and others is not supported by the data presented. Einarson points out that low birth weight was not stated as an investigated outcome and that only average weight of newborns and proportion falling lower than the 10th percentile (ie, small for gestational age but NOT low birth weight. Low birth weight is technically defined as >2500g2.

Einarson’s study combined both prospective and retrospective methodology to examine a large number of women specifically on Paxil. Their conclusion? “Paroxetine does not appear to be associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular defects following use in early pregnancy, as the incidence in more than 3,000 infants was well within the population incidence of approximately 1%.”

Just in case you’re wondering, no, their study was not funded by GlaxoSmithKline. The Carlat Psychiatry Report is quick to point out that seven of the nine authors received no funding from GSK or any other drug company but two have received funding for drug research from other drug companies but not GSK.

The Carlat Report also address what one should do with conflicting information regarding medicating during pregnancy. The best one can do from a “medico-legal perspective is to avoid paroxetine. But the data does suggest that paroxetine – and perhaps by extension, all SSRI’s – may be safer than what has been suggested by other smaller studies.”

Going back to the issue of pre-term delivery as well as low birth weight and their relation to mood or medication, a recent study released by Dr. Katherine Wisner examines this very topic. The study looked at 238 women with no, partial, or continuous exposure to either SSRI treatment or depression and compared infant outcomes. Dr. Wisner’s study found that exposure to SSRI’s did not increase birth defects or affect infant birth weight but the importance of this study lies within the finding that the pre-term delivery rates were the same with depression exclusive of SSRI treatment, leading the researchers to state that it is “possible that underlying depressive disorder is a factor in pre-term birth among women taking SSRI’s.” Dr. Wisner also encourages further research into this topic even though her study was just released this year. You can read more about this study by clicking here.

Rita Suri, M.D. from UCLA also studied this very situation, publishing her research in August 2007 in the American Journal of Psychiatry. Not surprisingly, Suri’s study is quoted in the Vogue article. Her results found that infants born to women taking SSRI’s were three times more likely to be born prematurely (although most were only 1 week early) She also found that the higher the antidepressant dose, the higher the risk of early delivery. However, her results did not show that untreated mild depression had an effect on prematurity. I’d like to add a personal digression here. My second daughter was born at 36 weeks. While not officially diagnosed, I would say that I suffered from untreated depression during that pregnancy. Sure it’s not an official research study but it’s very hard to discount personal experience especially when it agrees with current research.

At this point in the article, we’re introduced to one of the more well-known disorders associated with paroxetine usage, Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the newborn. Tina Chambers, Ph.d, a birth-defects researcher from University of California at San Diego is the chosen expert for this topic. She states that this condition normally strikes only one or two infants in 1,000. But Chambers found that rates jumped between six and twelve per 1,000 for mothers who take SSRI’s. In contrast, a recent prospective study by Susan Andrade, ScD, concluded no relationship between SSRI usage and PPHN but did admit that given limitations of the study and small number of confirmed cases, further study in this area may be warranted. In Andrade’s study, 1104 mothers were followed with only 5 confirmed cases of PPHN reported.

Alexis McLaughlin’s story about her daughter’s struggle with PPHN is striking, especially for me, because I’ve seen my daughter struggle for breath immediately after birth. Her quote, “It’s difficult because you need good mental health and a healthy baby,” is very reminiscent. You do indeed need good mental health and a healthy baby. When I was pregnant with Charlotte, we told people we didn’t care about gender, all we cared about was health. But if that doesn’t happen? You do your best to get through it because there is nothing you can do to go back and change what was done in the past. We can only move forward, changing what we can, and if we can’t change it, we change the way we think about it. Even with a normal pregnancy given no SSRI exposure or depressive exposure, a mother faces a 3% risk of giving birth to a child with a birth defect of some kind.

We are then moved into the science behind the affect of an anti-depressant on the human fetus. It’s hypothesized that serotonin is responsible for sending “crucial developmental signals to the fetal heart, lung, and brain….[and that]…SSRI’s, which prevent the body’s natural absorption of serotonin, could be tampering with essential cell growth.” A study by Francine Cote concludes that maternal serotonin is indeed involved in fetal development, precedes the appearance of sertogenic neurons, and is critical for development. The latter hypothesis regarding the interference of SSRI with essential cell growth has been and I’m sure will be studied for quite some time.

Shortly after this, the article winds down by warning of the “small coterie of influential doctors who…underplay the dangers of antidepressants,” again, a quote from Dr. Adam Urato. I do agree whole-heartedly with the latter part of his quote: “We want and need expert opinion that’s free from industry influence and from the appearance of bias,” Urato says. “It’s just outrageous that doctors have to work with that.”

Any of the several women I’ve come across who work with the Perinatal Population will be some of the first to admit that yes, there are risks to taking medications while pregnant or nursing. We even inform women we support to not only weigh the benefits against the risks by researching their options but let the professionals determine if the situation is severe enough to warrant medication.

Dr. Katherine Wisner examined this Risk-Benefit relationship in a study back in 2000. In this study, Dr. Wisner encourages physician and patient communication through the use of informed consent, provided the patient meets the legal definition of competent. She also recommends a family member or friend of the patient be present to help alleviate any anxiety and to ask questions the patient may not think of asking regarding any medication decision.

Many of the recommendations Dr. Wisner sets forth should be commonly used by a competent physician. Unfortunately there are physicians who do not follow informed consent and instead pay attention to the perks offered by Pharmaceutical Companies. However; these perks are slowly disappearing as the medical community awakens to the ethical dangers they pose as a result of increased consumer advocacy for fair and informed treatment when it comes to mental illness. If you should find yourself with a physician who prescribes SSRI’s like m&m’s or refuses to listen to your situation, it is time to find a new doctor for your care. A good doctor will listen, research, and collaborate with you.

I want to close with a quote directly from the Vogue article by Gina Fromm, Mother to Mark Fromm, the little boy with the heart defect as a result of his mother’s usage of Paxil. I couldn’t say it any better than this.

“It is easier to take a pill,” Gina says. “But over the long run, that’s not the best solution. It certainly hasn’t been for my life.”

I agree Gina, I agree whole-heartedly.

In my opinion, society today has gotten in the habit of quick fixes instead of sustaining solutions. I personally think it’s time we change that. But let’s do so in a logical, evidence based, and bias-free manner. Otherwise we’ll all just end up stuck right where we are screaming at each other so loud we can no longer hear ourselves think.

The Confusion of Ante-Partum Depression: To Medicate or Not?

Finding yourself faced with depression during pregnancy is a confusing prospect indeed. How do you treat it? Do you tough it out and hope there is no effect on your pregnancy? Or do you risk medication and the potential effects that course may have on your baby as well? In addition, many care-givers are hesitant to medicate a pregnant mother for depression or even worse, are not familiar with ante-partum depression and negate the mother’s concerns over her mental health. If your caregiver brushes aside your concerns as normal pregnancy ups and downs yet you know in your gut it’s more, get a second opinion or ask for a referral to a therapist at the very least.

A recent study by Dr. Katherine Wisner, M.D., M.S., found that continuous exposure to either SSRI or Depression during pregnancy results in pre-term delivery rates in excess of twenty percent while mothers with no exposure to either depression or SSRI over the course of their pregnancy experienced rates of pre-term delivery at six percent or lower. The study looked at 238 women with no, partial, or continuous exposure to either SSRI treatment or depression and compared infant outcomes. They found that exposure to SSRI’s did not increase birth defects or affect infant birth weight but the importance of this study lies within the finding that the pre-term delivery rates were the same with depression exclusive of SSRI treatment, leading the researchers to state that it is “possible that underlying depressive disorder is a factor in preterm birth among women taking SSRIs.” You can read more about this study by clicking here.

“This study adds evidence that depression in pregnancy can negatively affect birth outcome. Although women treated with SSRI’s throughout the pregnancy may experience pre-term birth, the factor causing the problem may in fact be the depression and not the SSRI. More research is needed to tease out what is causing the changes in the uterine environment. As research comes forth, what continues to be clear is that treatment for depression in pregnancy is important. ‘Treatment’ doesn’t necessarily mean medication, but for everyone’s sake the pregnant woman needs to receive a plan for wellness.” Dr. Shoshana Bennett shares when asked about her take on Dr. Wisner’s research.

You may recall a recent study posted also regarding birth weight of infants. The study concluded that Prenatal Depression restricted the fetal growth rate. This study concluded that depressed women had a 13% rate of pre-term delivery as well as a 15% greater incidence of lower birth weight. This study’s results examined cortisol levels to determine risk of pre-term delivery and birth weight prediction, which leads us to another study examining the reliability of cortisol to predict short gestation and low birth weights. The study concluded cortisol levels were indeed a reliable manner in which to predict both.

So what’s a pregnant depressed mama to do?

Throw her hands up in the air?

Scream?

Cry?

Tough it out?

None of the above – she should work in partnership with her doctors to weigh the risks. There are other treatments available for depression and anxiety during pregnancy besides SSRI’s. Therapy is always an option. (Yes, more studies to be quoted ahead) A study examining the effectiveness of a Mindfulness based intervention for pregnant mothers found women receiving the intervention experienced less stress and anxiety during their third trimester and postpartum period. There was no data collected regarding pre-term delivery or birth weight in relation to this particular study.

There’s also a wonderful article at wellpostpartum.com that discusses how cortisol impacts mothers. Included in this article are some terrific (and natural) suggestions on how to keep cortisol at bay.

Alrighty now. You’ve shared your precious studies with us. What about some real life advice? What did YOU do when faced with the Hamlet conundrum of medicating during pregnancy?

I read.

Voraciously.

The two biggest sources of help for me were Karen Kleiman’s What Am I Thinking? Having a Baby After Postpartum Depression and Kornstein/Clayton’s Women’s Mental Health. Karen’s book allowed me to realize my emotions were right on target for a woman facing pregnancy (expected or not) after surviving a PMD episode while Women’s Mental Health laid out the risk factors in a no-nonsense manner. I was convinced to stay on medication after I read my risk for relapse went up by 50% if I discontinued my medication during pregnancy. With my risk factor already 50% higher than women having never experienced a PMD, there was no way I was giving myself a 100% risk of traveling down that road.

I stayed on my medication. I stayed in therapy. I talked to my family and developed a postpartum action plan, spending more time on preparing for my possible fall than for my son’s arrival. And you know what, it paid off big time. I did not experience a PMD the third time around, even though (yes, more studies) having a boy may put you at a higher risk for developing a PMD and the risk for experiencing a PMD after two episodes is almost 100%. I beat the odds and don’t think a day doesn’t go by that I don’t give thanks to God for carrying me through.

I always encourage women I come in contact with to weigh their options with their caregivers. To educate themselves and make the best decision possible with the information at hand. Your doctor is on your team and should be willing to listen to your plan and at least consider your requests. If he/she does not respect your wishes, it may be time to find another physician for care during the prenatal period.

I would also encourage you to get a couple of books, the first being Dr. Shosh’s Pregnant on Prozac, in which she examines the relationship of psychiatric medications to pregnancy. It’s a must have resource for mothers facing the decision of psychiatric medication for an existing condition or a newly diagnosed condition. Also pick up a copy of Karen Kleiman’s Therapy & The Postpartum Woman. While this book is ultimately aimed at clinicians and the postpartum woman, pregnant women facing a mood disorder would glean quite a bit from this book as well and may consider gifting it to their caregiver as well, a paying it forward action if you will.

And if you’re interested in complementary or alternative treatment methods that don’t include SSRI’s, a great place to start researching is over at Well Postpartum. Run by Cheryl Jazzar, this blog has just about everything you could ever want to know about alternative care during the Perinatal Period.

The final thought on all of this? Do your homework. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or stand up for yourself (and your child). Above all, make the decision and agree not to second guess yourself or blame any outcome on yourself. As long as you make the best decision with the best information at your fingertips at the time, there is no blame. (And hey, the fact that you’re reading this article right now speaks pretty highly of your motivation to educate yourself!)

No matter how alone you may feel in that dark pit of depression during pregnancy or postpartum, you’re not. There are plenty of other women there with you and there are lots of us reaching our hands down to help you out. All you have to do is reach out and grab.