Therapists and counselors also struggle with mental health. Licensed mental health professional Jenna Overbaugh treats anxiety disorders for a living, but after the birth of her son she struggled with postpartum anxiety, depression and OCD.
Jenna always assumed that her training and profession would have her well prepared to handle anxiety and depression issues in own life. After a traumatic delivery experience, Jenna began to experience intrusive thoughts centered on accidentally harming her newborn. The thoughts expanded and against her own professional advice, Jenna found herself unwittingly engaging in the avoidance and safety behaviors that she logically knew fuel the problem.
Jenna found herself struggling with a trifecta of problems:
- Anxiety and intrusive thoughts.
- Engaging in rituals she knew were wrong but felt powerless to resist.
- Feeling like a professional failure and fraud.
Contrary to popular belief, therapists don’t always have their own therapists. Jenna found herself resisting professional help at first.
Luckily, Jenna did find herself an excellent therapist that helped her work through the processes that put her on the road to recovery.
Jenna’s experience taught her that there is giant hole in our society where the basics of mental health for new mothers should be. Without having the benefit of the knowledge Jenna has, the average new mom is totally lost and terrified when confronted with the common mental health struggles that can pop up after childbirth. There is plenty of information about the nuts and bolts of delivery and caring for a newborn but virtually no discussion of even basic postpartum mental health concepts.
New mothers are often lead down somewhat destructive paths based on addressing mental health issues with “body-centric” solutions. In addition, Jenna and I briefly acknowledge the “toxic mom culture” that often buries new mothers in ideal images and ideas, driving many new moms into extreme child-centered rituals based on “proper” diet and care. As always, extreme expressions of almost anything can lead to disordered thinking and behaviors.
Jenna made excellent points about how new mothers can be particularly susceptible to obsessive compulsive patterns given the connection between OCD, responsibility and uncertainty.
If you are a new mom or soon-to-be new mom, Jenna offers the following mental health advice:
- Advocate for yourself. You are not broken. You have been abandoned by both society and a very weak maternal mental health system in general.
- Educate yourself. Knowing the reality of postpartum mental health issues can go a long way toward keeping you out of the dark if problems do pop up.
- Find yourself a supportive “mom tribe” that will allow you to share your struggles and speak openly about the real problems you’re going through. Odds are, other moms are going through them too! Can’t find a support group? Create one!
- Make smart use of social media to find good information and support for your mental health issues. Set aside the “perfect mom” accounts and search out real postpartum information, resources, and support online.
- Talk to someone! Find a good therapist that treats postpartum mental health issues, and set up an appointment before you give birth. You can always cancel the appointment when the time comes. Don’t wait until the wheels fall off before reaching out for help that might be six weeks away based on therapist waiting lists.
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