The greatest joy and deepest sadness

By Jillian Milam
September 22, 2006

Kevin Manning

Post-partum depression, commonly known as PPD, is a disorder that can leave women in a severe melancholy state after giving birth, affecting one in eight new mothers. It is a disorder that is affecting a large percentage of women but do we, as a society, understand PPD and what it entails? Society has seen its fatal affects of Villanova’s Mine Ener, the controversy it causes with celebrities such as Tom Cruise and Brook Shields and new laws have been created to increase awareness this past year – but what is it that we are missing?

“There is a difference between “baby blues” that most mothers experience and postpartum depression,” Dr. April Perrymore, assistant professor of psychology, said. According to the National Mental Health Association, “baby blues” involve milder symptoms and occur in 70 to 80 percent of all new mothers. It typically develops three or four days after delivery and the symptoms usually disappear after a couple of weeks, unlike PPD. PPD normally begins to make its mark three to four weeks after delivery and can last anywhere from three months to a year. (

“PPD is a clinical onset of depression from the hormonal changes that take place after giving birth,” Perrymore said. “We all experience a day where we might feel depressed; however, it is not as severe as a depressive episode. With PPD, women experience depression but it’s not just the “baby blues, it’s a real clinical depressive episode,” she said.

Physical systems of PPD include exhaustion, sluggishness, fatigue, sleep and appetite disturbances not related to care of the baby, headaches, chest pains, hyperventilation, and heart palpitations. Women also may experience emotions and behaviors such as increased crying, irritability, hopelessness, uncontrollable mood swings and fear of harming the baby, her partner, or herself.

Studies on PPD have proposed two different views on the actual cause of the disorder. Many researchers claim that PPD is hormonally based; however, some say it is due to particular circumstances in new mothers’ lives.

“It really depends on the individual,” Dr. Perrymore said. “Sometimes it’s extremely physical and it’s about the serotonin levels in their brain, but sometimes it’s that life gets too stressful and they begin to experience symptoms of a depressive disorder. They say that after the birth of a baby, it’s the hardest time in a marriage, anyway, for the couple.”

The factors involved with having a baby can be overwhelming for some couples. “The life change is tremendous. You might not be getting any sleep and oftentimes mothers are housebound for a while,” she said. “It’s an extremely stressful time of life, a major life adjustment.”

Serious physiological risks become issues when mothers experience PPD. If it is a severe case, some women might not get out bed or they might neglect caring for themselves or their child.

“One of the major [risks] is that they might not be caring for the child as much as it needs, which is really important developmentally for the child,” Perrymore said. “PPD can have a huge impact on the children if the mother is depressed. If they keep having episodes it would most definitely affect the kids.”

So how does medication help cure PPD?

“The neurotransmitters would be affected in the brain,” Perrymore said. This wouldn’t necessarily always be true but it’s really linked with depression which is why medications work.because it takes those neurotransmitters and makes them work more correctly.”

There is different type of PPD called postpartum psychosis, a mental illness that requires immediate medical attention, according to National Mental Heath Association. Affecting only 1 in 1,000 new mothers, the potential effects are delusions, hallucinations, child abuse, suicide, and infanticide.

In 2003, people were witness to an unfortunate postpartum psychosis reality – Mine Ener, a former Villanova teacher, killed her baby and herself in late August 2006. According to an article by Vanessa Pralle published on, Villanova University’s online newspaper website, fellow teachers wondered how to appropriately remembering Ener’s death without condoning.

“From a psychologist’s perspective, it’s a disease, a disorder. If someone is suffering and they have no control over it, it’s hard to hold it against somebody,” Dr. Melissa Terlecki, assistant professor of psychology, said. Terlecki was previously employed at Villanova during the time of Ener’s death. “With PPD psychosis, it’s not being in the same reality.”

Stats from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention claim there were 31,484 reported suicide deaths in 2003 alone. “That’s such a high percent

According to, New Jersey signed a new law on April 13, requiring NJ doctors to educate expecting mothers and families about PPD and to screen new mothers for the disorder.

Both Perrymore and Terlecki agreed that this law is a great means of prevention. “It should just be part of the schpeel,” Perrymore said. “Mothers will know what to expect. Education is huge and this law is a great idea. I would hope that some of your better doctors have already been doing that.”

Loquitur welcomes your comments on this story. Please send your comments to: The editors will review your points each week and make corrections if warranted.

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Jillian Milam

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