Hayden Panettiere on Postpartum Depression: ‘Ask for Help’

A few months after the birth of her daughter, actress Hayden Panettiere made headlines when she opened up about her struggles with postpartum depression and checked herself into a treatment facility. Today, Panettiere, best known for her role on TVs “Nashville,” is again making headlines, but this time in celebration of her recovery and in support of other women who share her experience. “The biggest message that I’ve been trying to promote for women is that it’s OK to ask for help,” she told People magazine. When she allowed herself to get past the mommy guilt and turn to others, she explained, she was at last able to overcome the postpartum depression that left her feeling as though she was in a tunnel. “You can’t even remember when you felt good. You try and think back to when you felt good, when you felt positive, when you felt happy, and you can’t. All you see is this enveloping darkness,” she told the magazine.

Not Just the Baby Blues

Postpartum depression isn’t just the baby blues or the natural weariness and worry that can come with being responsible for a newborn. It’s a serious mood disorder that occurs in an estimated 15% of births, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. It’s thought to be caused by a combination of physical and emotional factors, and generally presents as a feeling of anxiety and sadness so extreme that it gets in the way of being a mother and of the mother caring for herself. Symptoms can also include:

  • Feeling overwhelmed, empty or hopeless
  • Crying for no apparent reason
  • Irritability and restlessness
  • Sleep problems
  • Overeating or undereating
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • Episodes of anger or rage
  • A loss of interest in things once enjoyed
  • Social withdrawal
  • Aches and pains, including stomachaches and headaches
  • Persistently feeling unequal to the job of parenting
  • Trouble attaching to the baby
  • And in some cases, but far from all, thoughts of self-harm or of harming the baby

Women experience postpartum depression in individual ways and with different intensities, and that can add to the confusion surrounding the illness. “There’s a lot of misunderstanding — there are a lot of people out there that think that it’s not real, that it’s not true, that it’s something that’s made up in their minds, that ‘Oh, it’s hormones.’ They brush it off,” Panettiere said during a 2015 appearance on Live! With Kelly and Michael. “It’s something that’s completely uncontrollable. It’s really painful and it’s really scary and women need a lot of support.”

‘I Was This Devastating Failure’

In a powerful Buzzfeed video, four moms share what it’s like to have postpartum depression, all highlighting how feelings of inadequacy such as those referenced by Panettiere got in the way of seeking support. “Everyone I knew, I felt like had the most wonderful experience after having their baby,” explained one, “but I didn’t know how to say, ‘I’m freaking out.’” Another summed it up this way: “I believed every parent around me knew what they were doing and that I was this devastating failure.” The women agreed that allowing yourself to turn to others for support and treatment is the key to recovery. Forget being a perfect mother, one emphasized: “You have to be honest. You have to let people in and let them know what you’re going through.” Another, who had reached out for help the day she found herself yelling into her crying baby’s face, summed up what the experience had taught her: “Struggling with postpartum depression didn’t make me weak, but becoming victorious over it, that’s what made me strong.”

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