It is estimated that approximately 10-15% of all new moms suffer from postpartum mood disorders, but the numbers are likely higher because this estimate doesn’t include unreported cases, stillbirths or miscarriages. Now, to put this number into perspective, fewer women will be diagnosed with diabetes or breast cancer than postpartum depression each year.
When you take these statistics into account, it makes sense why scientists, researchers, physicians and clinicians are trying so hard to pin down which mothers may be at a higher risk for developing the condition. They’ve studied everything from genetics to social connections. More recently, they looked at where a mother lives.
Published in the journal Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), the recent study looked at whether urban or rural locations actually played a part in the risk of postpartum depression. To help them determine this, more than 6,400 women from a wide range of geographical settings (urban, rural, semi-urban and semi-rural areas) were included in the study.
Rural settings were defined as communities with fewer than 1,000 people but more than 400 people per square kilometer. Semirural settings included areas that had up to 30,000 people. Semi-urban settings had populations from 30,000 to 499,000. Urban setting were those with more than 500,000.
Overall, 7.55 of the women who had given birth in the weeks prior to the survey ended up developing symptoms of postpartum depression. However, a shocking development ensued when comparing the risks of mothers in urban settings to those in other community settings; they had the greatest risk – a total of 10% – of postpartum depression. This was compared to a risk of 6% for women in rural areas, almost 7% for those in semi-rural areas, and 5% in semi-urban areas.
It is likely that there are other known risk factors involved for women from all settings, including a lack of social support and a prior history of depression (i.e. many mothers in urban settings who developed postpartum depression were members of immigrant populations, who often have a weaker support system), but some experts believe there is more to the heightened risk of urban mothers than the known factors.
Paula Caplan, a clinical and research psychologist at Harvard University and author of the book “Don’t Blame Mother: Mending the Mother-Daughter Relationship” is one of those experts. Though not affiliated with the study, Caplan says there are many factors that could influence the heightened risk for mothers living in urban settings. For example, many of these mothers are working multiple jobs, and because of cost of living, they may still be living in poverty. Adding stressors like these to the challenges of raising a child can push a new mother’s coping skills to the limits, she says.
“People say poor mothers suffer from depression,” she told Yahoo News. “Why is this a surprise? If you’re trying to be a good mother, it is very hard if you are poor and if you are isolated without having a sense of helplessness.”
In addition, most women are finding themselves living further and further away from home, and their former support systems. As a result, they are trying to manage raising a family without any help from family members, and sometimes, without the help of friends. Granted, blogs, social networks and online support systems have exploded on the Internet. However, Caplan says that these “support systems” can’t even come close to competing with the support that comes from having a real, live person in your life to turn to when parenting becomes overwhelming.
“There are mommy blogs and social media, but there is no substitute for having someone right there who can break down our isolation and tell you you’re doing fine and your kids are okay,” she said.
Caplan also believes that there is a bigger factor at play here – one that must be dealt with on a whole-society level.
“We have completely unreasonable expectations for mothers,” she said. “We live in a mother-blaming society where mothers get blamed for almost anything that goes wrong with their child. Mothers can feel isolated or scared to death. There are social changes that need to be made. These women do not need to be treated for alleged mental illnesses.”
And it seems that the study authors seem to agree on some level, because they suggested that better daycare options and more supportive services for women who have given birth could help. However, these services are often available in urban settings, (albeit the fact that many of these are usually full or have waiting lists), which brings up the question, how do we reach out to women who live amongst people and resources but still feel isolated and alone?
For me, it usually comes down to simple things. Even in our own small community, there are very few resources for new moms. And when I see a mom that I don’t know, who looks frazzled, frustrated, or just plain tired, I tell her she’s doing a good job. I listen without judgment. Because it’s what I wanted, and sometimes still want. Because we’re all in this together, doing the very best we can…and far too often, that still doesn’t feel like enough.
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