Utah mom says mothers need to reach out for help with depression, anxiety
Jun 23, 2023, 8:22 PM | Updated: Jun 24, 2023, 11:05 am
EAGLE MOUNTAIN, Utah — About 15 to 20 % of women experience more severe symptoms of depression or anxiety during or after pregnancy than the average woman. That’s according to Postpartum Support International. Though these feelings can be overwhelming, experts want women to know there are effective treatment options available. One Eagle Mountain mother shares her story for Healthy Mind Matters.
For, Kristin Arnold being a mom was always in the plans.
“Being a pediatric nurse, I was like, ‘Oh, I got this! I’m ready to have a kid,’” she recalls. “We were just excited to have our little girl here.”
But suffering from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders was not in her plans.
“I wasn’t prepared for the symptoms that just came on really, really hard and fast … which for me, included depression, anxiety, OCD, and bipolar symptoms,” Arnold explained.
Despite reaching out, Arnold didn’t get the help she needed until her daughter was five months old. Finally, she found an intensive outpatient program designed specifically for moms.
“Which connected me with a psychiatrist and a therapist who were both specifically trained to work with moms and there was also a support group there of women that really helped me,” she said.
Knowing she wasn’t alone was powerful. “Then someone else would be like, ‘Oh, you too?! I thought I thought I was the only one that felt that,’” Arnold described of her virtual support group.
She says getting the right care from someone who specializes in maternal mental health is critical.
“Within two weeks he found me the medication that I needed and I started feeling better,” Arnold said. “It’s really important that you find those resources of providers and therapists and people that are specifically trained to deal with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.”
The symptoms came back when Kristen had her second child, and again when she unexpectedly got pregnant with her third.
“He had just barely turned one and I found out I was pregnant, even though I had an IUD,” Arnold said. “That was a very stressful time for me.”
Her baby also had to be in the NICU after birth, only compounding her stress. Thanks to the support Arnold already had in place, she managed during this difficult time. “I had that support group and I felt so much more supported than I had after my first was born,” she said.
Jamie Hales is a licensed clinical social worker, program manager for the Huntsman Mental Health Institute Maternal Mental Health Service, and PSI board member. She says starting the conversation is sometimes the hardest part. She tells women to reach out to their primary care doctor, obstetrician, or even pediatrician.
“Making sure that you’re not afraid to speak up and say, ‘You know, hey, I’m having such a hard time right now. I don’t know if this is normal. I don’t really feel like myself,’” she said.
If you are experiencing feelings of sadness or anxiety beyond the first couple weeks postpartum, she encourages women to reach out.
“When we start to get a little bit worried is when the depression or the anxiety really persists past,” Hales explained. “If you’re seeing somebody who is really not sleeping, they’re having trouble kind of taking care of their just own basic needs.”
Hales says prioritizing self-care is not selfish and will allow you to care for your child better. “If we’re not taking care of ourselves, it’s really hard to make sure that our own cup is refilled so that we can actually do that for them,” she explained.
Though sleep is hard to come by as a new parent, Hales says new parents should aim to get four to six hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. If this isn’t possible alone, she urges moms to rely on outside support systems like family and friends.
She also encourages family members to check in on new parents. “It’s good to ask, like to really ask, ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ because that focus very often goes on to the baby and we kind of forget about the parents,” she said.
Hales says either a personal history of depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder prior to pregnancy can be a risk factor for experiencing perinatal mood disorders. She says there is also a genetic component to experiencing these illnesses and encourages women to be aware of their family history.
Arnold encourages other women to not give up.
“You’re not weak. You don’t have a personality defect, you’re not a needy person, your brain just isn’t functioning the way it should, whether that be because of hormones, or stress, or lack of sleep, or any of the things you experience as a mom,” she said.
Despite her pain, Arnold says her life now is everything she once could only imagine it to be.
“There was a time when I was feeling so low and I didn’t really feel like I wanted to keep going,” she said. “And I just kind of had these visions in my mind of what our future might be like — my son playing soccer with my daughter in the backyard and just doing stuff like that, and the other day, I saw some of those things happening and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh! We made it!’”
“And it’s so much better. I never would have thought that my life would be so amazing,” Arnold added.
This Saturday, June 24th, Arnold is volunteering at the Climb Out of Darkness walk hosted by Postpartum Support International Utah Chapter at Wheeler Park from 9:30 am to 1:30 pm. It’s a family-friendly event with fun activities like face painting and food trucks and will provide a chance for women to connect with local resources.
The Huntsman Mental Health Institute also offers outpatient, inpatient specialized services, and a supportive outpatient program for mothers. Call 801-585-1565 for more information.