Suicide Prevention in the Childbearing and Postpartum Years 

The following blog piece was originally published September 12, 2015 on, a collaboration between myself and local colleague, Cher Kay.

By Christine Frackelton


Today is the culmination of a National Suicide Prevention Week, and though the awareness topic is a regrettable one, I am thrilledto share what progress I have noticed in the time since I was going through postpartum depression 5 years ago.

Let’s start with a couple local moms.

Jennifer Silliman, in West Palm Beach, became an activist for women suffering from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) after her experience with invasive thoughts throughout her pregnancy.  She now facilitates several Postpartum Support International groups around Palm Beach County, to give women a safe place to share their experiences and learn from one another.

Maureen Fura is another south Florida mom, who, after surviving postpartum depression, teamed up with Silliman to produce a new documentary on PMADs, called The Dark Side of the Full Moon.   As of my typing this, it has been screened in all but a few states and more than 100 cities.

I attended one of the screenings this past summer.  The film touched me deeply as I witnessed women’s battles during and wounds following their PMADs, and was reminded of my own battle.  Many, like myself, struggled to find the care they needed.  However, Silliman and Fura’s fight for improved awareness has been victorious in many ways.  Their film has added fuel to the movement for greater postpartum follow-up and referral programs, in which women are widely and regularly screened for PMADs and, when necessary, pointed towards professionals who will assist them.  Other victories include the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists making a statement about PMADs being a primary cause of maternal mortality, and one of the film’s featured mothers suddenly being reimbursed by her insurance for her costly stay in a psych ward.  The producers have also collected many more women’s stories, including my own, to create a push for the CDC to recognize maternal mental health problems as a serious threat to the well being of our nation’s families.

I would venture to say that one of the greatest benefits of the conversation started by these local mothers’ documentary is a growing de-stigmatization of postpartum depression, anxiety, psychosis, obsessive compulsive disorder, and post traumatic stress.  The more that we talk about these PMADs, the easier it is for women to find support and feel less isolated.

The same goes for suicide.  Experts agree that openly talking about suicide, rather than avoiding it, is one of the keys to being approachable to someone with suicidal thoughts.  Other suggestions, which doulas are trained in, are showing empathy, listening and responding without judgment, and providing resources.  Here are a few resources that I respect:

Let’s face it: new parents are susceptible to having their brains malfunction.  It goes with the territory of sleep deprivation, and in my experience, often peaks for parents around 2 to 4 months.  Do you know what happens when your brain is out of whack?  You lose your executive functioning and may come up with “solutions” that will make everyone around you grieve in the worst way possible.  You might lose your perspective and falsely believe that you are a burden to people or would be better off not being around, when in fact, you are extremely valuable.  Scientists have determined that by measuring a person’s verbal fluency (an indicator of executive functioning) they can predict who is susceptible to committing suicide.  If this information raises doubts about your well being, here’s what I recommend: don’t be ashamed (1/5 of mothers have PMADs, and new fathers also are susceptible), and visit the resources I have links to above.

Also, reach out for support.  If you are sleep deprived, find someone who can take care of your baby and any siblings so you can take some much needed naps.  A postpartum doula is a wonderful resource for the exhausted parent, and can not only watch your children while you nap but also prepare meals, do laundry, tidy your home, and help you process your parenting experience.  Join a group of other new moms; parenting in isolation is one of the easiest roads to poor maternal mental health .  Consider exercising and supplementing with fish oil, as some care providers believe these may reduce mood disorders.  Call an old friend who cares about you.  Make note of ways you have cared for yourself in the past, and find a way to treat yourself with the same kindness you used to.

As Maureen Fura states, “when a mother is not well, the whole world suffers.”  Your parenting experience matters, and the repercussions have a ripple effect.  If your best friend or one of your children came to you feeling the way you do, what would you encourage them to do?  Maybe you can take your own advice.  It is worth it.

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