Disappointed but Not Surprised: My Take on Private Practice’s handling of PPD

As a coordinator for PSI, and a fan of Private Practice, I was excited to see that Private Practice was doing a show spotlighting Postpartum Depression. I was even more happy to hear that they had contacted PSI about doing a PSA for the website. PSI was not allowed to know of any of the content of the episode, but they put together a very well written PSA nonetheless. The PSA was excellent. I wish I could say the same about the episode.

Now, I’ve watched medical dramas long enough to know that they go for the most sensational cases most of the time. My own struggle with Postpartum Depression wouldn’t have garnered many ratings. How many people would really want to watch a woman walk into her doctors office and say, “I just feel blah and I don’t really enjoy being a Mom, can you help me?” get the assistance she needs, fight the good fight, and get better. Not so exciting, I suppose. In short, I wasn’t particularly surprised that ABC chose to write a storyline based around a woman with Postpartum Psychosis. Even so, I sure wish that the media would stop placing all the focus there as 99% of postpartum mood disorders don’t involve any form of psychosis and it is the truly rare case that a woman with a Postpartum Mood Disorder would try to harm her child. Certainly the perpetuation of the myth that all Postpartum Depression involves this extreme sort of action or fantasy is a disservice to women suffering.

Several things really DID bother me. First of all it was terribly irresponsible that the terms Postpartum Depression and Psychosis were used interchangeably. What does it say to a woman who has just been diagnosed with Postpartum Depression to see this? In what is already a frightening and overwhelming situation how dare ABC add fuel to the fire of women struggling by putting women diagnosed with a PPMD in the position to wonder if she too could do that to her child. Furthermore, it bothered me that such a large thrust of the episode revolved around whether or not the troubled mother should be able to be around her child, and it ESPECIALLY bothered me that the makers of this website would put a thoughtless petty poll about whether or not those who viewed Private Practice think a woman should be allowed access to her children when dealing with mental illness. The poll when coupled with the excellently written PSAdoes nothing but further stigmatize this disease, which was certainly exactly the opposite of what Postpartum Support International was going for when they agreed to write the PSA. Even worse it has the potential of frightening women who desperately need help and reassurance when facing a postpartum mood disorder from seeking the help they need. Having been there and done that (to a far milder degree than anyone who had watched this episode would expect–I certainly needed help, but I certainly did NOT want to harm my child), I can speak from experience that the fear of having my child taken away from me made it very hard to reach out for help. Guilt and fear are two of the most debilitating and harmful aspects of PPD and this episode did nothing but perpetuate both AND add to the stigma that women with Postpartum Mood Disorders already have to overcome.

I can’t say that I’m surprised by this television take on the subject, but I’m certainly disappointed that Private Practice portrayed things the way they did. Past that, I find it highly upsetting that even though they featured a PSA on their website, that the matter of Postpartum Mood Disorders was so trivialized throughout the show and especially on the websites poll. I know the sensational cases bring the better ratings, but if you must be sensational at least be responsible. Even more, don’t trivialize the incredibly difficult struggle of mother’s fighting to come back from PPMD’s with a fear-mongering witch-hunt poll.  

To get the facts on Postpartum Mood Disorders, or to find support for those struggling with them check out PSI’s website at www.postpartum.net

One more thing:  This is of course only MY feelings on the subject and in no way reflects the ideas or opinions of the PSI organization as a whole.

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7 thoughts on “Disappointed but Not Surprised: My Take on Private Practice’s handling of PPD

  1. Val this is ridiculous and irresponsible programming from my thought point. I believe you need to write a letter to ABC telling them so. I would be happy to sign a petition demanding clarification from them. This is unconscienable. Having worked with the mentally ill and having suffered from my own mental illness issues with depression and anxiety (YES they are mental illnesses! Are we surprised people? Mental illness doesn’t always mean you hallucinate and see dodos or darth vader or pink elephants or try to kill your child, get a friggin clue).
    We aren’t nuts, but they are for portraying that shit.
    That makes me furious.

  2. Well said, Val. I had the same thought as Andrea (above comment). In fact, that post would make a fine letter. I’d sign as well.

    How ridiculously irresponsible of them.

  3. I agree with the ladies above. And as someone who has struggled through PPD, I never wanted to harm my children. BUT before I ever read your blog about you having PPD, I did think that women with the illness were always the ones to kill their kids. That’s what the media has always protrayed so that’s what we think. And it is hard to reach out for help. No one wants to admit to having a mental issue that could get so bad (without help) that you would harm your kids or think that having said illness makes you a bad mother. Shame on ABC.

  4. ugh… TV. S.U.C.K.S. I can only think of expletives, so I’ll keep this short. I absolutely agree that you should send a letter to ABC, and also a copy to PSI letting them know what ABC did with their thoughtfully-written PSA, just to make sure they’re aware.

  5. Thank you for this important commentary. If you’re a PSI coordinator, do you know my dear friend Birdie, the president of PSI? She nearly saved my life. Check out my site sometime, if you’d like. I’m devoting it to PPD (or, to put it correctly, PMD: Perinatal Mood Disorders, as Birdie would say!). Thanks again!!!

  6. Pingback: Warrior Moms Pull the Plug on ABC's "Private Practice"

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