Falling Into The Postpartum Mood Disorder Abyss: A Personal Story

By Deb Wachenheim
Guest Contributor

Over the past two days, The New York Times published a series of articles about postpartum depression and other related mood disorders. The first article looked at the science and policy on this topic and highlights a few women’s stories.

Today’s article is about my sister, Cindy Wachenheim, who took her own life in March of 2013 after struggling for six months with postpartum mood disorders. I say mood disorders because it was not just depression (and the fact that there are other postpartum mood disorders in addition to postpartum depression was something about which I was previously completely unaware). She had extreme anxiety about, and obsession with, her baby’s health and she was depressed because she believed she caused him to have serious health problems. Also, according to what I have been told by experts, she may have been psychotic: she was so convinced that something was seriously wrong with her baby — despite doctors telling her otherwise — that she strapped him to her chest when she jumped out of her apartment window, believing, I can only assume, that this was what was best for him. Thank goodness, he survived and is thriving.

Beyond what is written in the article, I think it is important to give more detail and information on some resources and policy activities in Massachusetts, in the hope that this could possibly help others who are facing similar struggles. As is mentioned in the article, I reached out to Cindy’s son’s pediatrician after Cindy had gone to see her multiple times about her concerns.

Pediatricians are key to screening for postpartum mood disorders and making referrals for needed treatment. Most women see their OB a few weeks after giving birth and if everything seems okay at that point then they are sent on their way until the following year’s annual exam.

However, woman bring their infants to see the pediatrician many times over that first year. It is pediatricians who could notice if something seems to not be right with the mother. Continue reading

How A Mother And Son Learned To Live With Psychosis

By Dr. Annie Brewster
Guest Contributor

Chris is a 38-year-old Ph.D. student who spent 10 years struggling with and fighting against his psychotic illness. His condition has been hard to diagnose — it’s been characterized as Bipolar and Schizoaffective Disorder at various times. Regardless of the specific diagnosis, the bottom line is the same: Chris has a lifelong mental health condition. He hears voices, and has suffered from paranoia, depression and mania along the way.

Chris, a 38-year-old grad student, and his mother Eileen (Photo: Courtesy)

Chris, diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and Schizoaffective Disorder, is now a grad student at the University of New Hampshire. Here he is with his mother Eileen, who fought mightily to get him adequate mental health treatment. (Photo: Courtesy)

His symptoms started when he was a 25-year-old grad student in New York City. Before that, according to his mother, Eileen, he was extremely high functioning — an excellent student, an athlete and a friend to many. She would never have suspected that her son would become ill. But when he grew paranoid and started acting erratically, Eileen began to worry. Ultimately, when she realized how sick her son had become, she knew she had to act. She quickly learned how difficult it is to get help for someone who is mentally ill but over the age of 18. Eventually, after multiple frustrating and unsuccessful attempts to get Chris into treatment, she was told “you need to find three strong men who love him, and you need to go get him, and you need to take him to a hospital,” and this is what she did. Eileen’s story highlights the challenges of navigating the mental health system and of accepting and ultimately embracing her son’s medical condition.

Listen to Chris tell his story here:

Eileen offers her perspective here:

These days, Chris says he is in a different and better place. He has accepted his illness and has learned to manage it with medications, therapy and his support systems. Like any chronic condition, it requires constant monitoring, but he feels equipped to handle the ups and downs and he has become quite skilled at recognizing his symptoms and titrating his medications in response. He is now a Ph.D. student at the University of New Hampshire’s Natural Resources and Earth Systems Sciences program, where he is integrating environmental economics with his background in environmental sciences and engineering. He is engaged to be married and will soon gain a step-daughter. Though his illness complicates his life, he has learned to live with it while maximizing his happiness and productivity. Continue reading