UNC inpatient program serves as a model in treating postpartum depression

Posted November 23, 2015

For mothers who find the joy of childbirth clouded by postpartum depression, hospitalization can ease the stresses of new parenthood and protect their children from danger.

UNC Hospitals is home to one of the few inpatient treatment centers for postpartum mood disorders in the country, but with only a few beds and an average stay of 10 days, it's hard for women who suffer to get a slot.

Postpartum symptoms can range from the "baby blues" to a psychotic break, and in severe cases, mentally ill mothers have hurt their children.

Before the birth of her second child, Kristina Dulaney had never had any issues with mental health. But after Sadie was born, she found herself losing control and ashamed to ask for help.

"I got very angry, and there were some things I couldn't control coming out of my mouth," she said.

"I knew I needed to get on medication, but I felt like I could do it myself. I guess it was kind of a pride issue."

In May, Dulaney had a psychotic episode. He husband, Wesley, described it as "a complete break from reality."

He found his wife very pale and afraid that she was dying.

"I was terrified," Wesley Dulaney said. "I didn't know what was going on."

Kristina Dulaney ended up finding treatment at Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital in Greensboro. She spent two weeks in the hospital followed by intensive outpatient therapy and medication.

At UNC, Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody, head of the Perinatal Psychiatry Program, said they see about 3,000 women each year. About 100 of those qualify for in-patient treatment.

"We know that one in eight mothers will suffer from some sort of postpartum or pregnancy mood or anxiety symptoms," Meltzer-Brody said.

A very small percentage of those become psychotic, and some will go on to harm their child. Meltzer-Brody referenced the 2001 case of Andrea Yates, a Texas mother who drowned her five children in a bathtub.

Like Dulaney, some mothers are reluctant to ask for help, Meltzer-Brody said.

"Oftentimes, people don't think of this as being a real condition, a real medical condition, and there's kind of this idea that they just need to pull themselves up and work harder and push through it," said Dr. Mary Kimmel, head of the UNC in-patient program.

Dulaney said she didn't want other moms to think she couldn't handle motherhood, but for doctors like Kimmel and Meltzer-Brody, encouraging women to seek help is key.

"This is a treatable medical condition," Kimmel said. "Speaking up and getting help makes a huge difference."

While a limited number of treatment spots are available at UNC, Kimmel and Meltzer-Brody said they see their program serving as a model for other hospitals across the country.


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  • Erika Phipps Nov 23, 2015
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    Well, for some postpartum depression may involve rejection of the baby, but for another it may be floundering, or a terrible fear of failure, and having absolutely no confidence in herself. However it manifests, it's important these women know they are far from alone in the condition, and doctors *do* understand it and even follow up on how the new mom's doing.

  • Susan West Nov 23, 2015
    user avatar

    Bless her. Yes, it's a real condition. Anyone that's raised livestock has seen an animal occasionally reject their baby after birth. We don't know why it happens, but I suspect underlying health issues coupled with the huge hormonal changes that take after birth could be to blame. You can't quite understand postpartum depression unless you've been there, it's a helpless place to be.