A Story of Postpartum Depression in the 1950s

I am not shy about sharing my experiences with depression. Mental illness is not something that should be hushed up. Mental illness should be talked about like any other illness. Physical or otherwise, an illness is an illness. The individual is not to blame. Just as insulin and diet are used to treat diabetes, medication and therapy can be used to treat depression and other disorders. Because I have personally struggled with depression, anxiety, and other disorders and have witnessed as family members have gone through similar struggles, I know both the hope and the hopelessness that go along with being diagnosed with a mental illness.

Because of my history of depression and anxiety, I know that I am at an increased risk for postpartum depression. After loosing my first pregnancy last year, I did suffer from PPD. Therefore, my risk is even higher than average. However, I am fortunate enough to live during a time when PPD is not hidden away with the dirty laundry. Yes, depression including postpartum depression still carries a stigma in contemporary culture, but at least women with PPD are no longer shipped off to institutions for nervous conditions.

I bring up the concept of a “nervous condition” after reading a blog post by Maple Leaf Mommy about the struggles with postpartum depression experienced by her grandmother in the 1950s. In those days, postpartum depression was not even a thing. Instead, a women experiencing depression or anxiety after the birth of a child was labeled as having a nervous condition. Separation by means of a mental hospital and electroshock therapy were common treatments. I highly suggest reading the entire “Postpartum Depression in the 1950s, my Grandmother’s Story (or A Short History of Postparturm Depression, from 1950-Now)” for the whole story.

I am so glad that I no longer live in an era in which a postpartum woman struggling with depression is routinely separated from her new baby and her family. I am also so glad that the medical community has a better understanding of mental illness including PPD. I know that, if I should suffer from PPD, I will be able to find the help that I need to get better.

Image Credits

Woman in the 1950s: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mildred_Catherine_Rebstock_(1919-2011).jpg

Heather Johnson

Heather Johnson is a mother, wife, writer, librarian, and linguist. She earned a BA in English studies with a minor in creative writing from Illinois State University in May 2007, an MS in library and information science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in May 2009, and an MS in English studies with an emphasis in linguistics at Illinois State University in December 2011.

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