In the months after her fourth son was born last year, Leslie Tremlett started to feel like she was crumbling inside.
Though she kept up a good face at work, Tremlett, 38, found herself increasingly irritable and angry at home with her husband and children.
After two earlier experiences with postpartum depression, Tremlett had expected to have a smooth transition this time around.
‘I know all there is to know, I’m fine,’ she thought.
Even as she was hit with one major event after another to deal with as a sleep-deprived mother, Tremlett felt like she needed to plow ahead and not admit to the difficulties she was having.
She was asked to take on new responsibilities at work, her family moved across the city, and both a close friend and a relative died.
Her moods only worsened, but Tremlett still couldn’t confront the depression and anxiety she was experiencing. Finally though, with the help of her husband and doctor, she checked into an in-patient clinic for a week-long stay to begin her recovery.
“That was the turning point that I needed to realize that this was an actual illness that you need assistance for,” she said. “It’s real and there is help.”
Now, Tremlett is working to make sure other women experiencing mental health issues related to pregnancy and childbirth know they’re not alone and that they can get better, too.
Climb Out of the Darkness
On Saturday, Tremlett will lead a walk around Shelley Lake as part of the international Climb out of the Darkness campaign, which raises awareness and funds for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.
The campaign encompasses postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder, postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder, postpartum psychosis, postpartum bipolar disorder, and pregnancy depression and anxiety.
This year’s campaign includes events in at least 40 states and six countries, from hiking mountains to walks in local parks. Participants can register for the group events or find their own way to mark the day with a walk or outing.
Tremlett hopes the campaign and other efforts to raise awareness help women get the help they need.
“I just wish there was more visibility to it,” she said. “There’s still such a stigma to mental health in general, and to maternal mental health.”
Samantha Meltzer-Brody, director of the Perinatal Psychiatry Program at UNC’s Center for Women’s Mood Disorders, said that postpartum depression occurs with 10 to 15 percent of births.
The symptoms for women can range in severity and type but often include anxiety, trouble sleeping, worrying, becoming uninterested in self-care or not enjoying a new baby.
“Many women find what should be a happy time to be not a good time,” she said.
At UNC, the center offers outpatient treatment as well as a 5-bed unit for women with moderate to severe postpartum depression, the first of its kind in the country.
During the past decade, Meltzer-Brody said she has seen an increase in awareness about maternal mental health, including among obstetricians and pediatricians, who are now more likely than they used to be to refer women for assessment and treatment.
Women have more sources of information and help through online and local support groups and other organizations. Women also are taking the step to share their stories and show just how common postpartum depression and other issues are.
“Stigma remains a battle, but it’s better,” she said. “It’s a slow moving process.”
Tremlett said that it was hard at first to tell her own story. But once she started, she’s found many women who can relate to her experiences.
She hopes others will do the same.
“It’s OK to talk about it,” she said. “If we raise awareness, maybe we can save someone who is struggling.”