A bill headed for the Senate would increase funding for postpartum depression research — but it might also increase screening. Is this a good way to help mothers and babies, or another step in the "medicalization of motherhood?"
A Time article on the Melanie Blocker-Stokes Postpartum Depression Research and Care Act (oddly, written by someone named Robert McNamara, presumably not the deceased former Secretary of Defense) says that although the bill doesn't specifically set aside money for postpartum depression screening, critics think screening would "naturally increase" if it passed. They say this could lead to false positives (as few as a third of women whose initial postpartum depression screen is positive actually have the disease) and unnecessary medication. Supporters of screening counter that postpartum depression is far from rare — up to one in seven moms get it — and that we routinely screen babies for conditions that are much less common. And screening might prevent tragedies like that of Melanie Blocker-Stokes, the act's namesake, who jumped off a building when her child was 3 1/2 months old.
It's hard to argue with increased funding for research into a condition that kills some new mothers and plunges many more into misery — not to mention putting babies at risk. At the same time, there's something a little "Yellow Wallpaper"-y about assuming that all women are in danger of flying off the handle and harming themselves or their kids. Psychologist Paula Caplan notes that adjusting to motherhood is tough, and we shouldn't assume that everyone who has some difficulty with it is mentally ill. Rather, we "should be addressing the social factors causing women to be upset after they give birth, not locating the problem within the women." Women's studies professor Ingrid Johnston-Robledo offers a similar opinion: "We need to find a way to come down in the middle: acknowledge women's depression but not assume that all women who struggle with the transition to motherhood are depressed." But that would mean developing a measured, considered response to a potentially divisive issue. Can we do that in this country?
The Melancholy Of Motherhood [Time]