Every year some 4 million women give birth in the United States, and as many…
‘Dark Side of the Full Moon’ Reveals Truth About Maternal Mental Health Disorders
The arrival of a new child is a time for joy and celebration. Nevertheless, the trials and tribulations of pregnancy and new motherhood are many. Fortunately, the medical profession goes to great lengths to protect and preserve the physical health of women passing through this stage of life. But sadly—and perhaps a bit surprisingly in this day and age—the severity of the mental health issues many new mothers must confront is frequently underestimated.
During pregnancy and its immediate aftermath, doctors focus so intently on the health of the body that they sometimes forget about the other half of the human equation, failing to acknowledge or understand the emotional and psychological challenges that precede and accompany motherhood and childbirth.
Research has shown that up to one in seven new mothers will suffer from a serious maternal mental health disorder either during or after pregnancy. This means that in the United States alone, 1.3 million new moms and/or moms-to-be will suffer from the effects of these disorders every year.
But far too many women are unprepared for such an eventuality and unaware of what is happening to them when perinatal mental health disorders develop. All they know is that their happiness and high hopes for the future have suddenly been replaced by depression, anxiety, obsessive thoughts, intense fears and feelings of worthlessness or failure. They realize something is wrong but they don’t know where to go or whom to ask for help.
Tales From the Dark Side
This tragic reality is the subject of a new documentary called “Dark Side of the Full Moon.” Set for release in early 2015, this 75-minute movie is the result of a collaboration between writer/director Maureen Fura and producer Jennifer Silliman, each of whom suffered from depression, anxiety and intrusive thoughts during their pregnancies and throughout the immediate post-birth period. Despite their eventual recoveries, both were frustrated by how hard it was to find the assistance they needed, and Fura and Silliman were disturbed by the fact that no medical professionals or birth specialists had bothered to inform them of the mental health risks known to be associated with pregnancy.
After doing a lot of research and speaking to hundreds of other women about these issues, Fura and Silliman discovered their experiences were far from unique. They came to realize that millions of women who should be enjoying the births of their sons or daughters were instead suffering in silence, abandoned and neglected by a medical system that should have known better.
Moving beyond the statistics, “Dark Side of the Full Moon” presents the harrowing accounts of women who experienced postpartum depression, depression during pregnancy and pregnancy-related anxiety disorders. The movie also includes testimony from a cadre of doctors, nurses, medical researchers and birth class instructors who know the truth about the damage these disorders are causing and are doing their best to see that those who are suffering have access to the help they need.
What Fura and Silliman found is a system plagued not by a lack of caring, but by a lack of knowledge and imagination. While some are conscious of the risks, it just never seems to occur to many birth care professionals that maternal mental health issues pose a severe threat. Over and over again the women who appear in “Dark Side of the Full Moon” report they were never asked by their OB/GYNs about how they were feeling, either during or after their pregnancies. And even when they volunteered information about their sadness, anxiety or intrusive thoughts, they were often told those feelings would pass and were seldom referred to a psychiatrist or psychologist who might have been able to offer expert assistance.
Fura and Silliman’s purpose in making “Dark Side of the Full Moon” was to raise the curtain that has been keeping conditions like postpartum depression shrouded in mystery. The medical profession knows these disorders exist, but for some reason it is still asleep at the switch when it comes to dealing with maternal mental health issues thoroughly and proactively.
Everyone involved in the creation of this riveting and impactful documentary hopes to see the day when a new climate of openness will predominate inside the healthcare industry, where new and expectant mothers will feel free—and will be openly encouraged—to talk about their feelings with everyone, from family members to doctors to childbirth educators and beyond. If screenings for maternal mental health disorders were to become standard practice at every pregnancy- or birth-related visit with an OB/GYN, Fura and Silliman believe this one step could slow the flood of women suffering under the weight of these conditions down to a trickle.
Out of the Darkness and Into the Light
The movie was not made for theatrical release, so the next step for the production team is to set up a distribution network that will enable interested parties to arrange private or public viewings. Fura and Silliman believe doctors, therapists, psychiatrists, nurses, midwives, emergency room staff, pediatricians, physician’s assistants, professors, medical students, child birthing teachers and anyone else in a position to monitor the health and safety of new mothers and mothers-to-be would benefit immensely from seeing the movie.
Powerfully and memorably, “Dark Side of the Full Moon” tells a story of unacknowledged pain and unredeemed suffering in the words of the victims themselves. It is a living document that exposes the failures and limitations of a system with good intentions but tragically flawed priorities in some instances. The producers hope the information they present will help lead to a revolution in the way maternal mental health disorders are diagnosed and treated so that, in the future, new and expectant mothers will have the support networks they need to carry them through difficult times.