Model Chrissy Teigen will be the first to let you know that motherhood looks effortless on her because she, like many other rich celebrities, has a lot of hired help in the form of nurses, nutritionists, trainers and stylists.
That’s what makes her recent admission to struggling with postpartum depression, or PPD, all the more noteworthy, according to mental health experts.
Teigen is well known for her honesty and willingness to be frank about taboo subjects like infertility, in vitro fertilization and body positivity, and PPD experts said her disclosure about her depression after the birth of her daughter may inspire others to learn more about the illness and seek the help they need.
Her essay, published in Glamour magazine’s April issue, is a stark reminder that the condition doesn’t care how rich or well-supported you are.
“With resources come support systems that can buffer some of the stressors that are associated with depression, but at the end of the day, we’re all human beings and we all have illnesses,” said Catherine Monk, an associate professor in psychiatry and an OB-GYN at Columbia University Medical Center. “Nobody is immune to cancer, and nobody is immune to depression.”
Teigen’s essay is also a good reminder that depression is biologically driven by factors that can include hormones and genetic susceptibility. Those factors can combine with the occasionally traumatic experience of birth and adjusting to a newborn to increase the risk of PPD.
“Birthing and postpartum is wonderful and it’s all worth it, but at the same time it’s a painful event with a lot of sleep deprivation and massive hormonal changes that are absolutely mood-altering,” said Dr. Maria Muzik, an expert on PPD and director of the University of Michigan’s Women and Infants Mental Health Clinic. “It’s a treatable condition, not a character flaw.”
Postpartum depression is a common and serious mood disorder that affects an estimated 1 in 9 women who give birth. More than just the “baby blues,” which tend to resolve within a few days of giving birth, PPD can strike at any time within the first year of birth, last for weeks or even months, and involve symptoms like crying or feeling angry more often than usual, feeling disconnected from the baby, excessive worry that you’ll hurt the baby and withdrawing from loved ones.
Research shows that untreated PPD can negatively affect a child’s physical, emotional and cognitive development, and in its rarest and most extreme forms, PPD can result in self-harm or suicide.
PPD can affect women of all ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds, but one’s risk for the condition, as well as having access to screening and treatment, can increase or decrease depending on several other factors.
For instance, women with less social support and more unstable lives are at a higher risk of PPD than others. Moms who gave birth as teenagers, women who live in the inner city, immigrants, sex abuse survivors, moms of preterm infants and those who experienced stillbirth are all at a higher risk of depression after birth. Women at a higher risk of PPD also include those with a history of mental health conditions, a family history of depression or depression during pregnancy.
For Teigen, symptoms manifested both emotionally and physically. She felt stressed and sad after her daughter Luna was born, which she blamed on her family’s living situation and home construction. But she also had chronic pain in her back, shoulders and wrist, was never hungry and was so tired that it was a struggle to get out of bed or take a shower.
During that time my bones hurt to the core. I had to go to the hospital; the back pain was so overwhelming. I felt like I was in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy: These kids were around me, asking questions. Maybe it was a kidney infection? No one could figure it out. I saw rheumatoid doctors for the wrist pain; we thought it might be rheumatoid arthritis. I felt nauseated all the time, so I saw a GI doctor. I wondered: Am I making this all up? Is this pain even real anymore?
Luna was born in April, but it wasn’t until just before the holidays that Teigen got her diagnosis: postpartum depression and anxiety, with the latter responsible for her physical symptoms. Her doctor prescribed an antidepressant, and Teigen began sharing her condition with friends and family.
Key to her recovery, Teigen writes, was the unwavering support of her husband, musician John Legend — a crucial detail to Muzik. Teigen writes that he was patient with her when she was struggling through her condition undiagnosed, and he was in the doctor’s room with her when she got the answers she needed to move forward with treatment.
In a recent interview with People magazine, Legend offered this advice to partners who see their loved one struggling with PPD:
“[As a man] you don’t know internally what it feels like. You should read about it and understand what it is and really just be there to help,” he said. “You need to be present and you need to be compassionate. And we’re all learning and trying to figure it out as we go. At least do that and try to figure it out together.”
This attitude can make all the difference, Muzik explained, as women are often belittled and shamed by their families to keep quiet about their symptoms. They are told to “get over it,” that their chronically low moods are “part of the journey,” or that all women feel the same way at one point or another after birth, she said.
“Or they get really shamed and told just to try harder, or pray harder — I did it, your grandma did it, your mother did it, so this is what women have to do,” said Muzik. “But if the partner is alert, recognizes the symptoms and sees that this is an illness, and doesn’t interpret it as her not ‘wanting it’ or [being] lazy, that’s helpful.”
And given Teigen’s influence and reach on social media (her Twitter account boasts 4.71 million followers), Muzik said she hoped that Teigen’s message will inspire women and couples to be more open-minded about PPD, learn the signs of the condition and support each other in the event of a diagnosis.
“If people would speak up, it would decrease suffering to women, families and babies,” Muzik said. “And if people speak up who have access to social media and have a farther reach, of course that’s even better.”
In addition to learning the signs and symptoms of PPD, it’s also important emphasize that the condition is treatable with a wide variety of activities and medicines, Muzik said. Talk therapy, yoga, exercise and supplements can help women with mild to moderate forms of the condition, while antidepressants that are safe for breastfeeding can help women with moderate to severe PPD, she said.
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National
Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HELLO to 741-741 for free,
24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please
visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database