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postpartum period is the most psychiatrically vulnerable time in
a woman's life," says UCLA's Vivien K. Burt, associate professor
of clinical psychiatry. In 1993, Burt founded the Women's Life Center
at UCLA's Neuropsychiatric Institute and Hospital, a program specially
designed to address mood and anxiety disorders as they relate to
Women's Life Center focuses on mental-health treatment during the
special phases of a woman's life, such as conception, pregnancy
and menopause. At the time of its creation, only one similar facility
existed in the United States. Since then, Burt and her colleagues
have advised a number of universities that have opened such centers,
including Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., UC San Diego and UC
woman suffering from postpartum depression needs to understand that
it's a treatable illness and it doesn't mean that she's a bad mother
or one who can't bond with her child," says Burt. Treatment can
include antidepressant medication, individual counseling or group
counseling. Most experts agree that women do best with both medication
Farrell, an adjunct lecturer in the Division of Psychiatry, facilitates
UCLA's support group for those with depression during pregnancy
or postpartum. "It's important to take social and environmental
factors into account along with biology. The interplay between them
plays a part in just about all psychiatric diagnoses," she says.
factors can make a woman more vulnerable to developing PPD. These
include a previous history of depression, as well as social stresses
such as an absent or unsupportive partner, financial problems or
a recent loss.
the role of personality remains unclear, Burt and Farrell have noticed
certain traits that seem to be shared by women who suffer from PPD.
"They tend to be hard on themselves and look for their own deficiencies
when things don't go well," says Burt. Or, as Farrell describes
it, "They're A students who feel like they're getting a C."
Wilson, a Los Angeles-area mother of two, sought help from the Women's
Life Center after experiencing a panic attack five days after the
birth of her second child. "Up to then, everything had been perfect,"
she says. Her doctor told her to get some sleep and that she'd feel
better in three months. Instead, Wilson's condition worsened, until
she was consumed with such thoughts as "What did I do? I can't handle
this" and "I don't want him."