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Postpartum Depression: A History

written by: Rene Wolf • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 12/18/2010

Postpartum depression is a serious disorder that until recently was not discussed in public. It has been given widespread exposure thanks to a number of celebrities who have come forward to discuss their battles with postpartum depression.

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    History of Postpartum Depression: Introduction

    Women who suffer with postpartum depression often mistake the symptoms as having the "baby blues”; however, there is a significant difference between the two. A new mother experiencing “baby blues” will typically display the symptoms within a few days of giving birth, whereas the symptoms of postpartum depression can begin anytime, for up to one year after giving birth. The history of postpartum depression dates back far as the writings of Hippocrates, however, the symptoms of postpartum depression were not recognized as a medical disorder until the 19th century.

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    Early History

    In 700 BC Hippocrates wrote about women suffering from emotional difficulties during their postpartum period, but it was not until the 1850s that medical professionals first recognized postpartum depression as a disorder.

    During the 19th century when women experienced depression, many did not divulge their symptoms and those who did were often diagnosed as “neurotic." Women who sought help for their symptoms were often subjected to a variety of unusual treatments.

    During the 1950s electroshock therapy was often the recommended treatment for a “neurotic” woman or they were occasional prescribed valium. Women did not recognize their symptoms as those of depression, nor did they discuss their thoughts and fears regarding their symptoms. Their silence was most likely out of shame that others would think they were "neurotic" or insane.

    In more recent years, several celebrities have discussed their battle with the disorder. Through books, being quoted on blogs and publicly speaking about their experience with the disorder, these celebrities have helped to establish that postpartum depression is no longer a "dirty little secret" for women to be ashamed of.

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    Lisa Rinna (Babies were born in 1998 & 2001)

    Rinna revealed her battle with postpartum depression following the birth of each of her daughters. In her book titled, “Rinnivation: Getting Your Best Life Ever,” Rinna writes about her visions of killing her husband, Harry Hamlin and two daughters while going through postpartum depression. A section of Rinna’s book quoted on StarPulse reads, “ People don't talk about this. It's very, very scary and vulnerable. I had visions of knives and guns. I made Harry hide all the sharp knives and take the gun out of the house because I had visions of killing everybody. Now how horrific is that? I wanted to share it because I think women are so shamed by this and feel so horrible... I found help and got through it."

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    Brooke Shields (Baby born in 2003)

    In her book, “Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression”, Brooke Shields talks about the horrifying thoughts and disconnection she felt from her baby while suffering with the disorder. Also in her book she discusses the “war” that broke out between her and Tom Cruise, when he blasted her for her use of prescription medications for treating the symptoms of postpartum depression.

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    Gwyneth Paltrow (Baby Born in 2006)

    Gwyneth Paltrow discussed her experience with postpartum depression through writing in her weekly newsletter GOOP. In regards to her postpartum depression, she wrote “ I was confronted with one of the darkest and most painfully debilitating chapters of my life.” Paltrow discussed in detail her battle with postpartum depression, which she says “lasted about five months,” following the birth of her second baby in 2006.

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    Bryce Dallas Howard (Baby born in 2007)

    Bryce Dallas Howard, who plays a vampire in “Eclipse” also wrote about her experience with the disorder on GOOP, following the birth of her son. She discussed in detail the extreme difficulties she experienced with breast feeding, her trouble with eating and sleeping, and her screaming “expletives” at her husband.

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    Other Celebrities (2004-present)

    Courtney Cox-Arquette, Catherine Tate, Amanda Peet, Kendra Wilkinson, Gena Lee Nolin, Britney Spears and Marie Osmond are also among the celebrities who have fallen prey to the approximate 10% of all new mothers who experience the symptoms of postpartum depression. The symptoms vary among women, however, the majority report difficulties with:

    • Eating
    • Sleeping
    • Fatigue
    • Concentration
    • Feelings of guilt and worthlessness
    • Lack of interest in the baby
    • Excessive crying and sadness
    • Increase/decrease in weight
    • Anxiety
    • Physical pains unrelated to delivery

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    References

    StarPulse.com: Lisa Rinna On Postpartum Depression: 'I Had Visions Of Killing Everybody' http://www.starpulse.com/news/index.php/2009/05/18/lisa_rinna_on_postpartum_depression_i_ha_1

    Huffington Post: Gwyneth Paltrow & Bryce Dallas Howard Describe Postpartum Depression http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/07/22/gwyneth-paltrow-bryce-dal_n_655462.html

    Goop Newsletter http://goop.com/newsletter/93/?utm_source=Goop+Newsletter&utm_campaign=2ba28b6b37-Goop93_07_22_2010&utm_medium=email

    Health.com: 10 Celebrities Who Battled Postpartum Depression http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20448173,00.html

    The blog: babies online http://blogs.babiesonline.com/celebrities/postpartum-depression-affects-everyone/

    Torgovnick, Kate for The Frisky: 10 celebrities who had postpartum depression http://www.thefrisky.com/post/246-10-celebrities-who-had-postpartum-depression/


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