The shame of having suicidal thoughts keeps us from talking about them. Suicide is still a taboo subject in many ways. Perhaps you yourself have had thoughts like these:
“They would be better off without me.”
“No one would miss me if I was gone.”
These thoughts can seem so frightening, so desperate, so paralyzing.
Related: Spotting Postpartum Depression Can Be Difficult. Here’s how to get help from your partner
Having thoughts like these does not mean that you are a “bad mother”; certainly not. They mean that you are a good mother who has scary thoughts and deserves the support and care of those around you.
Maternal suicide is a public health problem; it’s a ‘we’ problem, not a ‘me’ problem. When you are having suicidal thoughts, it is difficult to ask for help, but this is when the help of others is most needed. That’s when you really need your village to mobilize, mom.
Maternal suicide is too common
The statistics on maternal suicide are staggering.
- Suicide is one of the leading causes of maternal death in the first year after childbirth.
- Suicide accounts for up to 20% of postpartum deaths.
- Although it can occur at any time during pregnancy and the postpartum period, one study found that maternal suicide was most often carried out between 9 and 12 months after childbirth.
Related: Dear Mom, You Shouldn’t Be An Afterthought After Giving Birth
At your six-week postpartum checkup, your provider should screen you for postpartum depression (PPD) and other maternal mental health conditions.
20/20 Mom, an organization that advocates for maternal mental health and launched Maternal Suicide Awareness Week (running September 4-10, 2022), also recommends screening at least once during pregnancy and at least once increasing times of the six-week postpartum visit, during the first 12 months postpartum. Routine screenings can help make suicidal ideation easier for patients to talk about and easier for providers to spot.
Risk factors for maternal suicide
The postpartum period is an especially vulnerable time, given the rollercoaster of changes a new mother goes through, both physically and emotionally. This is a period marked by hormonal fluxes, sleep deprivation, stress and isolation. Although postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety can present without any risk factors or medical history, certain factors can make the conditions more common and more likely to put you at risk for maternal suicide.
According to 20/20 Mom, there are several risk factors for maternal suicide and suicidal thoughts:
- Have PPD and suffer from sleep deprivation (common in the postpartum period)
- Have ever had suicidal thoughts and attempted suicide
- Experiencing depression during pregnancy
- Experiencing pregnancy complications
- Being a victim of domestic violence
- Having PPD and also having suffered physical abuse in childhood
- Have stopped taking antidepressant medication due to pregnancy or breastfeeding
Related: During My 6-Week Postpartum Checkup, I Lied to My Doctor About My Postpartum Depression
Maternal Suicide Resources
The phone numbers listed below are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to help you with suicidal thoughts or other mental health crises.
Help is available
If you are experiencing a life-threatening emergency or feel unsafe alone or with your family, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.
What can you do after the call?
Having suicidal thoughts can feel so isolating, but you’re not alone. It’s time to get professional help, make yourself a top priority ASAP, and start talking about it.
You deserve a commitment to your mental health and overall well-being.
Postpartum Support International and the National Maternal Mental Health Hotline can connect you with support groups in your area and direct you to local agencies that can meet your needs on the ground where you are.
Connecting with these supports can feel so normalizing and helping you find your way back.
A one-time call to a crisis line is only one step, but you may want to seek out longer-term support, whether through group therapy, group therapy, individual speech or the help of a health professional.
Above all, Mom, please ask for help. You are the best mother for your children. No one can ever replace you. These thoughts are scary and they can leave with the help of an approved clinical/medical provider. There is hope, even in your darkest hour. Reach. Grab it. We support you.