Postpartum Depression in the South Asian Community

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Flo.

Florence.

Florence Leung.

A daughter, sister, friend, wife. A new mother.

In the morning hours of October 25, 2016, Florence Leung went missing from her home in New Westminster, B.C. She was an accomplished photographer, a loved wife, and a mother of a two-month old son. She had been suffering from what her husband described as anxiety and postpartum depression and had been receiving treatment before her disappearance. While her car was found and she was captured on surveillance footage in a couple of locations, all searches came back with nothing, and the police were forced to stop their search with no more leads to work on. Less than 3 weeks later, Florence Leung’s body was found in the waters off Bowen Island (off the coast of Vancouver).

Florence Leung, her husband Kim Chen and their newborn baby are seen in a photo provided to CTV News by a family friend.

While I didn’t know Florence personally, this story touched me on a deep level, much like it did so many other mothers that I know. We didn’t know Flo, but we understood her. We felt her pain. We felt her husband’s pain and we understood the pain her son would grow up with. This deep, dark abyss of depression had pulled Flo away and it reminded so many of us how easy it could be to slip into that darkness.

Florence was receiving treatment. She was getting family support. Yet she still felt that she had no other way out.

Postpartum depression is a disorder that affects 1 in 7 women and can occur both during pregnancy and after delivery. A far greater percentage of women can relate to the postpartum baby blues (about three quarters of all women).  And an even higher number of women experience postpartum anxiety, with some researchers saying that postpartum anxiety towers over postpartum depression in terms of occurrence.

In the South Asian community, traditional family units are large and consist of extended families. Grandparents, uncles, and aunts often have a large role to play in childcare and parental support but quite often that support is not available in North America due to a number of reasons: extended families live further apart, more family members are likely to be employed and away from the home and therefore not able to help with childrearing. Sometimes extended families are not able to assist in childrearing due to personal differences. Furthermore, within the community the dialogue regarding postpartum depression and anxiety is somewhat quiet.

Flo’s death reminds us that an open dialogue and the elimination of shame around postpartum depression and anxiety are vital. Flo was taking medication for her depression. She had family staying with her and helping her the day she went missing. Yet all of that wasn’t enough for her mental health. Postpartum depression is not just a case of a mom feeling a bit sad or “blue” – it can have dire consequences.

Education in the South Asian community is vital for two reasons. First, in North America today, most young new South Asian mothers are balancing a lot more responsibility (family, career, personal life, personal goals) with less familial help than their mothers (possibly) or grandmothers (definitely) would have had. Secondly, while South Asian cultures don’t like to focus on mental health issues, studies have shown that South Asian women who have immigrated to North America recently, are much more likely to suffer postpartum depression than non-South Asian women.

While the South Asian community can be a wonderful, warm, and inviting culture, much work needs to be done to both remove the stigma around postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety (and all mental health issues), as well as to educate people about the disorders and the impact they can have. A loving family isn’t enough. People need to learn to recognize the signs because most often when someone is suffering from postpartum depression or anxiety they will have great trouble asking for help or further support. In today’s society where everything moves at the speed of light and every mom is competing to be the best Pin-worthy mom, it is extremely difficult to admit that you may need help to get through some days.

If you are suffering from postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety, talk to someone, whether a family member, friend, colleague, or neighbour. It is also important to talk to a medical professional and ensure that they connect you with social supports such as support and advocacy groups. If you are in BC, you can contact the Pacific Post Partum Society. Here to Help BC also has an extensive amount of information about postpartum depression and anxiety as well as some ideas of ways to cope.

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