May Named Perinatal Mood Disorders Awareness Month

Northbrook Star
Thursday, May 15, 2014

The month of May, with its warmer temperatures, blooming flowers and Mother’s Day, of course, is a well-loved time of year by most people, May has also been proclaimed Perinatal Mood Disorders Awareness month by Illinois Governor Pat Quinn. The designation is part of a plan by the Northbrook non-profit organization, Postpartum Depression Alliance of Illinois, to raise awareness, prevention and treatment of postpartum depression and other maternal mental health issues.

Dr. Sarah Allen, Expert in Postpartum Depression

”We want women to be aware that what they are experiencing is real, to know that they are not alone, and to know that treatment is available,” said Dr. Sarah Allen, Psy.D, a psychologist and Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who founded the Postpartum Depression Alliance of Illinois in 2001. ”We also want to make professionals-particularly OB/GYN’s and pediatricians aware, so that they will be aware of symptoms their patients might have.” Allen, who is originally from England, spent several years working in a maternity ward at a London She said when she came to the U.S. in 1997, she realized there wasn’t much awareness of these issues here.

“I would go into OB/GYN offices and ask about treatment programs and the doctors would say, ‘Oh, no, we don’t have that problem here,'” said Allen, who has been in private practice in Northbrook for 16 years offering counseling to individuals, couples and families. ”And I would say, ‘Oh yes, you do!”

In 1998, Allen attended a conference for the national organization, Postpartum Support International. It was an experience she said resulted the organization asking her to be an advocate for maternal mental health issues. Shortly after the conference, she became the Illinois Coordinator for the organization.

Allen Founds Postpartum Alliance

But after being bombarded by phone calls from people in need, and trying to find resources for them, Allen realized she needed help, so she recruited six volunteers and founded Postpartum Depression Alliance of Illinois.

“The volunteers are women who have experienced postpartum depression in the past, and who are passionate about helping others who are going through the same thing,” said Allen, who explained that the volunteers rotate answering a helpline that guarantees a return call within 24 hours.

In addition to the helpline, Postpartum Depression Alliance of Illinois consists of a website with information that includes symptoms to look out for, what families can do to help, and offers a support group and workshops for new moms.

The organization also advocates for maternal mental health issues and was part of a task force responsible for a senate bill that was passed in 2007, making screening for postpartum depression mandatory for front- line health workers, such as pediatricians, primary care doctors, nurse practitioners and obstetricians.

Postpartum Sufferer, Now Volunteer

Lita Simanis experienced postpartum depression in 2001 after her first child was born, and is now a volunteer for Postpartum Depression Alliance of Illinois. “It was set off by lack of sleep and the stress of my baby having a fever:’ said Simanis, whose two children are now 13 and 7. “I had a lot of fear and some negative thoughts about my son. It was one of the worst times in my life”.

Simanis said she got assistance from her OB/GYN, who made sure she had help and support through family and friends around the clock, and who also prescribed medication. ”As moms, we’re so good at feeling guilty and inadequate, and if you add a mood disorder into the picture, it blows it up to huge proportions that make it unbearable:’ said Simanis, who is an LCSW, and who is now the Coordinator of the Pregnancy & Postpartum Mood & Anxiety Disorder Program at Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Hoffman Estates.

PPMD Awareness Activities

”Women think, ‘Other women are doing it, why can’t I?'” Allen said. “They feel like a failure and they’re afraid to ask for help. That’s why we do this!’

Events taking place during Perinatal Mood Disorders Awareness Month include a free workshop led by Allen for new moms, a one-mile stroller walk at Alexian Brothers Medical Center, and A Day at Wrigley fundraiser on Sunday, May 18th.

More info: Helpline: (847) 205-4455.

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