If you’ve been on Instagram, you may have noticed a trending photo of Indian mother Nima Bhakta. She died of postpartum depression.
This story really irked me.
I’m not a mother, but I know lots of mothers.
I’ve always struggled to find the words to check in on my mom-friends about their mental health. It never feels appropriate. it feels assuming, and I’m just not sure how they would react.
I mean—this is a big, joyous moment in every woman’s life right? It’s the pregnancy glow, gender reveal parties and baby showers. It’s the baby registry, cute outfits, and nursery decorations.
It’s also a lot more. Women are rewired when they become a mother. During pregnancy and childbirth, a woman’s body goes through major physical, hormonal, and emotional changes and may never be the same again, either.
The miracle of birth includes both incredible joys, but also a lot of change, anxiety, and complexity.
Postpartum depression is a serious, but treatable medical illness involving feelings of extreme sadness, indifference, or anxiety, as well as changes in energy, sleep, and appetite. It carries risks for the mother and child. Some women experience this depression during pregnancy (peripartum depression).
There are approximately 4 million live births occurring each year in the United States. 1 in 8 women experience symptoms of postpartum depression.
That’s a lot of mothers.
Among new mothers, 70-80% will experience “baby blues,” a short-lasting condition that doesn’t interfere with daily activities and doesn’t require medical attention. Symptoms of this emotional condition may include crying for no reason, irritability, restlessness, and anxiety. These symptoms last a week or two and generally resolve on their own without treatment.
The Story for Brown Women
There is very little data on how postpartum depression impacts Indian mothers. Approximately 7.4% of Asian mothers are diagnosed with postpartum depression.
According to the Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF), South Asian Americans—especially those between the ages of 15-24—were more likely to exhibit depressive symptoms.
Another APIAHF report found that there was a higher rate of suicide among young South Asian American women than the general U.S. population.
It also reported South Asian Americans had the lowest rate of utilization of mental health services.
An investigation of psychological distress in South Asian women in the UK revealed that crucial mental health services were routinely assessed at a point of desperation when it is often too late.
Does any of this surprise you?
As an Indian woman—hell as a woman—it’s hard to come across one who is open to sharing their experiences with postpartum depression.
We need to understand the gravity of the stigma it holds for us—not just as individuals, but as families, communities, and friends.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve interviewed several women who experienced everything from baby blues to postpartum depression. Their vulnerability, honesty, and willingness can and should inspire us to do better and more for new mothers.
We need to rally around our mothers. But first, let’s hear some of their stories (You can click on each below).
- “As soon as I became pregnant, everyone had an opinion” – Praisy, mother of 2
- “I thought I would be superwoman” – Stacy, mother of 3
- “I felt helpless, and without hope” – Fairly, mother of 2
- “I knew all the symptoms” – Anita, mother of 1
- “Shame makes it about you” – Jyothi, mother of 2
First of all, thank you to these incredible mothers. I am indebted to you for everything I learned. It has made me more aware, and through your stories, others will become aware too.
What did I learn by talking to these moms?
You may be wondering—what can I do to help mamas?
Here are a few of my ideas from the heart wrenching and honest conversations I had with these incredible brown women.
We can ask about their health and offer support.
Dr. Rinku Sengupta Dhar, a gynaecologist at the Sitaram Bhartia Institute of Science and Research, shared this:
“Out of the, say, 700 delivery cases we undertake annually, only about five mothers diagnosed with PPD reach out for medical help. The numbers in the records are that low. Too many cases go unreported because the focus shifts from the mother to the baby after the delivery. So even when mothers face physical exhaustion, weakness and an overall lack of physical and mental well-being, it tends to go unnoticed, not just by the family members, but even by the mothers themselves,” she says
All of the women who shared their story in my series needed someone to notice. For some of them, it was their partner, for others it was a friend. We have to start asking better questions.
When a baby is born, a mother may go into the background. It’s time for us to focus on the mom and how she’s doing.
- 7 Ways My Friends Helped Me When I Had Postpartum Depression (Thrive Global)
We can raise awareness and put our money where our Instagram posts are.
Sharing Nima Bhakta’s story is one step of raising awareness. We have to listen, engage, and learn from the dialogue. Use your platforms to talk loudly about this—and not just those who are willing to listen. Have difficult conversations with those who don’t understand the vastness of this issue. I firmly believe that social media is not enough. Use the little you have to support the organizations and leaders who have been knee-deep in this work.
If you or someone you know has a mental illness, is struggling emotionally, or has concerns about their mental health, there are ways to get help. Use these resources to find help for you, a friend, or a family member.