I logged on to Twitter today during my lunch period and found a link to an AOL News story floating around with the hashtag #AOLhurtsmomswithPPD. (That’s “AOL hurts moms with PPD” for you non-tweeters out there.)
The link was to a story about Shaquan Duley, a South Carolina mother who was recently arrested for killing her two sons in much the same way as another SC mother, Susan Smith.
Criminal profiler, Pat Brown, asserted in the article that PPD is “a crock” and is a mother’s unhappiness about her new life/body/experience/etc and that it is not related to any sort of chemical imbalance.
AOL News removed the offensive statements made by Ms. Brown, so I give them their props for doing that much at least.
I know of at least two posts that have already been written to Ms. Brown, and she has responded to both writers.
I have no doubt that some of my favorite PPD support writers have responses forthcoming, and when they are posted, I’ll link to them.
At this moment, here’s mine.
Ms. Brown responded to Alena @ Charmingly Chandler (the second link above) with the following:
“The depression after birth, however, like all depression, is based in reality and personality, not chemical issues. We as a society needs to stop blaming chemicals in our brains and start looking for answers in reasonable life expectations, support from family and community, and lifestyle.”
Awesome. So I’m just a “depressed personality.” What does that even MEAN?
I have a good life. A husband who loves me. A beautiful child. A great job that I love. A good relationship with my parents and friends. A house, a car, a dog. I have the American Dream.
But I’m still depressed. Or have been. Or am working on it. (Some days, I don’t know.)
To say that depression of any form has nothing to do with brain chemistry is the equivalent of saying that a person’s hair color is not genetic. I mean, we can change our hair color, right? So the way we look at the world, our life expectations and our family and community support, should change whether or not we’re depressed, right?
For many people, depression is caused by an outside trigger–abuse, conflict, genetics, change, death, stress, divorce, general despondency, etc. Any number of events may trigger depression in otherwise healthy individuals. (PPD moms, please know I’m speaking of general depression here, as a survivor of both types.)
And having a support system in place is healthy and awesome. But what about people who don’t KNOW they’ll fall victim to depression? What do those people do? Are they just supposed to think it “won’t happen to them”? Because I know many women who never had any remote idea that they’d end up walking down such a dark path in what was supposed to be such a happy time.
What happens after the Trigger Event is most certainly chemical in nature. And here’s where I get all science-geek on you. (I do know more than just words. It’s numbers that give me trouble, people. And I almost minored in Biology in undergrad.)
Serotonin is a CHEMICAL. A neurotransmitter. Serotonin is the “feel good” chemical. Once a person has become depressed, his or her brain’s ability to absorb serotonin is altered. The receptors of the brain become blocked, or faulty, and the brain no longer takes in the serotonin in the places that it should, if at all. That is why medications like Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are effective in treating depression.
This video shows how serotonin, the yellow structures floating in the middle, can’t attach to the red parts, serotonin’s post-receptors. Instead, it is taken up by the white parts. This leads to an IMBALANCE of serotonin, which is a CHEMICAL, in the brain.
Taking an SSRI helps the brain absorb serotonin in the right places, thus aiding in the recovery from depression.
And that’s just ONE of the chemicals involved in brain CHEMISTRY.
In many cases, it takes a chemical to fix a chemical imbalance. Plain and simple.
Now, to the greater issue at hand.
I can’t say why Shaquan Duley did what she did. I don’t know her. I don’t know her life or her resources.
I know that not all women with PPD, or postpartum psychosis, which, if she has either is the more likely of the two, want to hurt their child. I never wanted to hurt mine.
Did I grieve for my life before him, despite the fact that I have NEVER NOT wanted him?
Maybe a little.
I don’t think that we should, as a society, say that mothers who commit atrocious crimes like this should not be held accountable because of their illness. No way, no how.
But at the same time, I believe that we, as a society, need to stop making women feel afraid and ashamed to seek help when they need it.
And that’s what people like Pat Brown do. Through comments such as these, comments that say that depression doesn’t exist outside of the influences in our lives that we should be able to just shrug off, they’re telling people that what they’re experiencing isn’t worth talking about. They trivialize a crippling illness that prevents rational thought and can inhibit daily functioning.
Depression in any form doesn’t come with a light switch that sufferers can flip on and off at their leisure.
If it did, do you think I’d have CHOSEN to be depressed after my child was born? Or in high school? Or in college? Do you think that any other mother would CHOOSE to be depressed? Do you think that my student who committed suicide last year would have CHOSEN to be depressed?
It’s not cool or trendy. It’s not something we can just snap out of.
It’s an illness that deserves the same respect that any other illness receives.
It deserves more respect than Pat Brown.