Need grows in South Carolina for new moms coping with postpartum depression

Coronavirus

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WBTW) — It was seven months after the birth of her first child when postpartum depression hit Amber Weakley “like a brick wall.”

“I was sad all the time,” she said. “I wasn’t able to do my household duties, wasn’t able to do housework or work. Even the mundane things — finding out what was for dinner — I couldn’t do that.”

She visited her obstetrician, received medication and quickly felt better. 

Now, Weakley serves as an outreach coordinator with a South Carolina chapter of Postpartum Support International, which has seen an increase of interest from new moms during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I think it puts a toll on new moms who are already struggling,” Weakley said. 

About 14% of those who experienced a live birth in 2018 reported experiencing depressive symptoms afterward, according to America’s Health Rankings from the United Health Foundation. 

The pandemic has made it harder for new moms to gain access to the already-slim amount of postpartum depression resources in the state, and has made getting face-to-face support more difficult. Support groups have gone digital, social distancing guidelines have further isolated new moms and parents are concerned about their babies getting sick.

“It is tough,” Weakley said. 

She said visitation policies that only allow one parent into neonatal intensive care units have also been stressful. 

Weakley connected with Postpartum Support International to get help with her recovery. The organization provided a support system, along with a grant to see a mental health specialist.

The organization has used virtual support groups, along with closed Facebook groups, to help moms throughout the pandemic.

She also experienced postpartum depression with her second son and had days when she couldn’t get up and do anything.

“I was reaching out to my friends and telling them I wasn’t feeling well,” she said. “When it got to the point when I was getting more down days than up days was when I realized something had to change.”

She encourages moms who are struggling for help to reach out. But while Postpartum Support International has chapters across the state, there’s an overall lack of support groups and resources in the Grand Strand and Pee Dee areas. Weakley said there’s not enough certified clinicians who treat postpartum depression throughout the state

Additionally, Weakley said there’s the constant struggle to eliminate taboos about the condition.

“I do think there is a bigger stigma in South Carolina than in other states about mental health, in general,” she said. 

Grand Strand Medical Center in Myrtle Beach hasn’t seen a change in how moms respond to a post-delivery depression screening throughout the pandemic, according to Tracy Rogers, the hospital’s manager of womens and childrens services.

The screener is used 24 hours following delivery, around when patients are discharged. The tool asks how they’ve felt in the last week, and includes a question about if they’ve considered self-harm. If a mom indicates that they have, the hospital immediately notifices the patient’s physician and does an immediate consultation. The patient is also connected to resources. 

OB/GYN are alerted if the results are above a certain threshold. Rogers said the patient is then seen within one to two weeks instead of the typical six week follow-up appointment. Patients are also screened at the six week follow-up visit.

Rogers said the symptoms of postpartum depression normally don’t appear within the first 24 hours of birth. 

“A lot of women get baby blues within one to two weeks after delivery, and you have those normal kind of mood swings, cry spells,” she said. 

What sets postpartum depression apart from the baby blues, she said, is that depression symptoms last longer and are more intense.

She said the depression screening is an important tool to help new parents, and there is no predictor of who will experience the illness.

“You never know who is going to get it,” Rogers said. “You never know.”

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