ABC Television contacted Postpartum Support International several weeks ago to say they were doing a story about postpartum depression on an episode of "Private Practice" and wanted to do a public service announcement (PSA) with information about the illness. I was aware of this project, because as the PR board chair for PSI, I had to write the PSA copy. I was told a message about the PSA would appear at the end of the episode (which aired last night) and would direct people to the ABC website to watch it. ABC wouldn't tell PSI any more about the episode.
As it turns out, the storyline was about postpartum psychosis instead of depression. Yet another story about a murderous mommy rather than the truth about perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. (A mom who initially seems to be having symptoms reflecting perhaps postpartum depression or anxiety turns out to have tried to drown her baby in the bathtub.) Additionally, ABC did not air the message about the PSA as they promised, thus viewers wouldn't have even known it existed. And on the "Private Practice" area of ABC's website today is an awful poll asking people whether the child of the mom in the episode should or shouldn't have been taken away.
This type of media representation of these illnesses must stop. It just continues to stigmatize the women who have them, and put fear into their hearts about being judged and asking for help. Postpartum Psychosis is extremely, extremely rare. Most women with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders never harm their children or want to harm them or attempt to harm them. Please join me in my "Pull the Plug on Private Practice" mission by refusing to watch the show.
As I wrote earlier this morning on my blog "Postpartum Progress":
Last night's episode was promoted, both to the public and to the members of Postpartum Support International, as one about postpartum depression, but -- surprise, surprise -- it immediately devolved into a show about postpartum psychosis and a mom attempting to kill her child by holding her down under the water in the bathtub. Every time the media, whether entertainment or news, chooses to cover perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, the portrayal is always of some out-of-control woman committing or attempting to commit infanticide. They NEVER represent the fact that 99% of women with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders NEVER EVER EVER EVER EVER do anything to harm a hair on their infants' heads. That 99% of them are very good and loving mothers who simply have an illness that requires treatment. They never represent the fact that there is so much more to these illnesses and that postpartum depression is very common and treatable.
In the name of getting more viewers for "Private Practice," ABC and the shows producers have irresponsibly represented perinatal mood and anxiety disorders and potentially traumatized HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of new mothers. I do NOT exaggerate when I say that. Just ask yourself how many husbands, family members and friends who saw the show are looking at the new moms around them today wondering whether they're capable of murder? Just ask yourself how many moms are not going to reach out for treatment because they now think their babies will be taken away as the character's was? Just ask yourself how many moms won't get in contact with a healthcare professional because they're afraid the person will behave like Violet, the therapist on "Private Practice"?
Just as I stopped going to Tom Cruise movies (and will not start back, despite his very clever new public relations strategies), I will not watch "Private Practice" ever again. And in case you think I'm the boycotting type who boycotts everything that makes her mad, please know that this is only the second time I've ever done this in my life, Cruise being the first.
I ask you to please join me to "PULL THE PLUG ON PRIVATE PRACTICE" by no longer viewing it as well. We have to speak out. This is very important, even for those of you who have never suffered a mental illness during pregnancy or in the first year postpartum: All women must stand up and let the media know the way they treat perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, and mental illness in general, is unacceptable.
I'm sure they'll say, "But it's just a TV program. No one takes it seriously." Well if that was the case, why do you use a medical consultant (who obviously has no clue, but whatever)? Why did you reach out to PSI? Why am I getting emails from women who are so terribly upset and confused?
We have to tell them that the power they have to influence and move others is much too enormous to be improperly used. We have to make sure the information that moms and moms-to-be receive is correct and measured and encourages them to get the treatment they need. If we don't make our feelings known loud and clear nothing will every change. We owe it to many millions of women who will suffer perinatal mood and anxiety disorders in the next decade.
If you plan to stop watching "Private Practice", Iencourage you to write about this on your own blogs and use the tags "Pull the Plug on Private Practice" and "postpartum depression" and "ABC".