The days and weeks following the birth of a child aren't always filled with blissful mother-baby bonding: Postpartum depression strikes about 10 percent of new mothers in the year following childbirth. Now, the first clinic in the United States to specialize in treating postpartum depression has opened at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Though this development will help increase awareness of this disorder, some observers think we still have a long way to go. Here, a brief guide:
How serious is post-partum depression?
Very. While it's common to have the "baby blues" — feelings of sadness and lethargy that fade after a few weeks — postpartum depression can be devastating. Left untreated, it can cause sleep disturbance, changes in appetite, and suicidal thoughts or actions. In extreme cases, postpartum depression can develop into post-partum psychosis, a life-threatening condition marked by delusions, hallucinations, and irrational thoughts.
How have new mothers been treated in the past?
Not very well, according to many women who have suffered through it. It's sometimes difficult for new mothers to find someone who will take their symptoms seriously. The program at UNC was inspired by Maria Bruno, a woman with severe postpartum depression who underwent treatment at the university's mental health ward alongside drug addicts and alcoholics. "I can't talk about it without crying most of the time," says Bruno, as quoted by NPR.org. "It will never escape me, that experience."
What services will this new clinic offer?
It will be open 24 hours a day, with special areas for breastfeeding and pumping, extended baby visiting hours for women who are hospitalized, and family counseling sessions. These counseling sessions are "a particularly good idea, not only because the condition affects the entire family," says Margaret Hartmann on Jezebel, "but because some new fathers have shown symptoms of depression too."
Could clinics like this become more common?
The UNC team hopes that more medical centers specializing in postpartum depression will follow. The Chapel Hill clinic is itself modeled after others like it in Britain, and "the new clinic is already getting nationwide interest, with doctors calling to get details about the program," says Sunny Chanel on Babble.com.