The week of June 4, two prominent celebrities died by suicide and their deaths impacted me more than I expected. As a handbag aficionado, Kate Spade’s designs were my “go to” when I wanted something fun and different. And cooking and travel are two of my favorite leisure activities, so Anthony Bourdain’s trips and stories never failed to entertain.
Additionally, on June 8, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a sharp increase in the national suicide rate since 1999. Rates for women increased significantly in 43 states. And importantly – and somewhat surprisingly – more than half of those who died by suicide were not diagnosed with a mental health condition prior to death. In Texas, a recent review of confirmed maternal deaths from 2012 to 2015 found suicide to be the fourth-leading cause of death in the year following delivery – above stroke, infection, and hemorrhage.
These deaths spotlight the ever-increasing need for awareness of mental health and available treatment options. We see these issues in our clinic often. Not long ago, I saw a patient for a routine 20-week ultrasound. The baby looked great, and the patient seemed especially relieved at the end of our visit. She told me she had been on antidepressants early in the pregnancy, and she’d read online that the drugs could cause fetal abnormalities and development problems. She then proudly shared that she was off her medications.
Pregnancy and the postpartum period are vulnerable times for women with a history of depression and other mental health conditions. I asked how she felt about stopping her medications, and the patient said it was the course she and her doctor had decided upon. However, I took the opportunity to remind her and her family about the possibility of her symptoms coming back, and I recommended that she shouldn’t hesitate to talk to her doctor if she she started to feel worse.
"Symptoms of depression and postpartum depression include feeling sad or overwhelmed, having sleep disturbances, and poor concentration. Severe cases can include thoughts of self-harm or harming others."
My message is clear: Talk to your doctor about symptoms
Please, confide in your Ob/Gyn, your child’s pediatrician, a family member, or a close friend if you are not feeling well or not feeling like yourself. Symptoms of depression and postpartum depression include feeling sad or overwhelmed, having sleep disturbances, and poor concentration. Severe cases can include thoughts of self-harm or harming others.
Treatment for depression and anxiety is effective, and seeking care should be considered just as important as tending to other high-risk conditions such as infections or high blood pressure.
If you feel the need for anonymity, additional resources are available. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 is not limited to people who are considering suicide. Counselors can provide anonymous support for people who are anxious, depressed, or feeling overwhelmed. Trained crisis counselors also are available through the Crisis Text Line. Simply text “HOME” to 741741 , and a professional will be there to listen and help.
Experts suggest that suicide rates can increase in the wake of coverage about high-profile deaths by suicide. As neighbors, friends, and family members, we must be aware of our own mental health needs, as well as the needs of others around us. It’s up to all of us to be there, ready to provide support and assistance.