Thursday, June 9, 2011

Postpartum Depression in Taiwan

Yeah, not a happy post.

Once again I’m going to apologize for blogging a lot less than usual these days. If you could see my schedule you’d understand why. I now work in Hsinchu twice a week, something I’m willing to do mostly because the pay is good and the clients are high-profile enough that it’s a nice ding on the resume. My schedule is so full that while I need to get a health check to renew my ARC, I don’t actually have any time – at all – during the hours when hospitals offer the checks. I’m making BANK, which is great for Turkey, but it takes its toll on blogging. It’s not that I have no time to blog at all; I could sit down on a Sunday afternoon or on one of the few days when I don’t start until noon, if I have enough time after prepping for work, but the workload is so great that it’s fuzzing up my creativity and siphoning away my energy to think about writing.
Anyway. I do promise that eventually, things will quiet down and I’ll be blogging more. My goal has always been five posts a week, and I’ll try to start hitting that again when I’m not racing all over northern Taiwan (Hsinchu, Taoyuan, Linkou, Tucheng, Zhonghe, Nangang - at least I get a good transportation allowance) for work.

My thought today:

I was recently chatting with a student who works for a pharmaceutical company. He told me about a disturbing story he’d heard – a new mother who’d drowned her young son in the bathtub for no apparent reason. He mentioned other similar stories that occasionally surface, and shook his head with sorrow and wonderment – how could this happen? How could she do that? How could any mother do that?

“It seemed like nothing was wrong,” he said. “I really do not understand.”

Clearly, he’d never heard of the surprisingly common and tragic phenomena of postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis. He didn't know the words in Chinese, and was shocked to learn that such things really existed - that depression and psychosis could be brought on by childbearing and the stress of infant care.

This from a pharmacist who works for a company that produces, among many other things, drugs that treat mental conditions and disorders.

“How could a normal woman do that?” he added. “It seemed she wasn’t insane. The news said she was very logical and calm.”

And of course, the answer is that while she may otherwise have been a normal woman, postpartum depression is a very real issue – while the causes may not be well-understood – have you ever noticed that disorders that affect women seem to be more frequently appended with phrases like “poorly understood” or “not extensively studied”? Why is that? – the effects and treatments are similar enough to depression – a bona fide mental issue – that I do confidently place it in a similar, if separate, category, and do the same for postpartum psychosis and other psychoses.

What scares me is that this is a member of the medical community – while not a doctor, it stands to reason that he should have at least heard of postpartum depression and psychosis. Failing that, why wasn’t it mentioned in the news item he saw?

Postpartum depression and psychosis, at their worst, can result in suicide (attempted or successful) and the murder of young children. The best ways to avoid this are a public understanding of the condition, availability of help and intervention. In the USA it has received a lot of press. I regularly read a well-regarded advice column in the Washington Post and her associated online chats, and discussions of these issues have come up several times, often from other contributors (as well as from the columnist herself).

It worries me that in the USA, these issues are in the public consciousness enough that random contributors to an online chat mention them, and yet someone who works in a medical field in Taiwan had no idea that such conditions even existed. I even had to explain what I meant when I said “she may have seemed logical and calm, but she wasn’t. She was suffering. She had a very real mental condition and it’s deeply sad that she didn’t, or couldn’t, get help for it.”
It makes me wonder – how many new Taiwanese mothers (and fathers) suffer without knowing why, without feeling that they can seek help, without knowing that there is a name and associated treatment they can seek out? How many parents’ and childrens’ lives are at risk due to this stunning lack of knowledge?

I mean, it’s hardly surprising, given the wide berth that psychological and psychiatric issues are given in Taiwan. Therapy and psychiatric care exist, but are not nearly as widely available as in the West. Western-style therapy and psychiatric care exists, but many people are too ashamed to take advantage of it, or don’t realize it’s there, or don’t know how to find it. If you feel stigmatized in the USA for having depression or another issue, try living in Taiwan. I am on a pretty even keel but have experience in my social circle with this, and it’s really an issue that needs to be addressed – not just for new parents suffering from postpartum depression and psychosis, but more generally.

(By the way, if you ever wonder why my students always sound so fluent in my quotes, it isn’t because I’m such a great trainer that I bring them to fluency in mere months – at least that isn’t the only reason, ha ha. I try to keep the cadence of their sentences intact but edit the worst errors, as English errors are really not the point, and I want my readers to focus on the content of their thoughts, not the grammar flubs they may make).


David on Formosa said...

Did you see this article in CommonWealth magazine? It says 31.7% of Taiwanese adults suffer from anxiety and it is mostly work related.

blobOfNeurons said...

Since the topic of mental illness has come up, I think the book Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche deserves a mention. Here's an article on it.