...At the Risk of Sounding Glib

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Biology 202

2006 Third Web Paper

On Serendip

...At the Risk of Sounding Glib

Stefanie Fedak

I published my second web paper on post-partum depression and the possibility of vitamin treatments for women who experience mild to severe episodes of post-partum depression. I drew my inspiration from the very public assertions of Tom Cruise that vitamins could 'cure' post-partum depression, and his blunt criticism of actress Brooke Shields' use of anti-depressants in the treatment of her post-partum depression. Cruise went so far as to call psychiatry a 'pseudo-science', and to furthermore, call Today show host Matt Lauer 'glib' in the midst of a live interview. As fate would have it Shields happened to give birth in the same hospital, on the same day as Cruise's beloved fianc้e, Katie Holmes. The irony of it all was almost too much to bear. Shortly after little Suri (Tom and Katie's child) entered the world, Paul sent me his comments about my paper – and thus, the spark for this final entry on serendip was born (no pun intended).

After reading over my initial paper, and with the help of Paul's expert (not glib) comments, I recognized that I had made a number of broad assertions about the treatment of post-partum depression without proper contextualization. In order to avoid the risk of sounding a little too much like Tom Cruise, I wanted to clarify and reflect upon the alternative of vitamin treatments, the so-called "accepted" treatment options, and attempt to understand the intricacies of post-partum depression and its effect on women.

The first and most valuable source I could think of to elucidate the mysteries of motherhood was my own mother, Nan. In a conversation shortly after the completion of my original work, I mentioned the topic of my paper to Nan; her response was, "I can completely see how many mothers would be affected by post-partum depression." She then reflected upon an incident shortly after my own birth, where a woman threw her baby out of a window in her New York City apartment; she was later diagnosed with post-partum psychosis, the most severe on the spectrum of post-partum disorders.

While my own mother did not suffer from post-partum depression, she clearly understood how the intensity of childbirth, combined with the dramatic change in living situation, and what she termed as "overwhelming" responsibility of childcare, could drive a woman to harm her own child. When I asked my mother what she thought the solution to post-partum depression was, she responded that in serious cases, it seemed obvious that medical treatment should be the primary recourse, but she thought the most important thing a new mother needed was support – she stressed that 'support' could come in the form of someone who is willing to help change diapers, or having someone available to talk to who isn't wearing diapers.

As I thought about my mother's reaction, I began to consider my own first reaction to Cruise's claim that vitamins could 'cure' post-partum depression – "Tom Cruise is a nut job! What good would vitamins do?" While Tom Cruise's mental state might be up for debate, it is undeniably true that he has made a significant contribution in a continuing discussion about treatment options for one form of depression – though this contribution may have been made in a strange and abrasive way.

Both anti-depressants and vitamins are tested in similar ways; by comparing the reactions to and any possible improvements in, patients who received the substance – be it vitamin or drug – against patients who did not receive the substance. Evidence, as cited in my previous paper, shows that researchers have presented findings that both anti-depressants and vitamins, may have a level of effectiveness in the treatment of post-partum depression – a point that went somewhat overlooked in my original work. To treat 'studies' as though they are absolutely conclusive is both ill informed and ineffective in the furtherance of the scientific process of "getting things less wrong".

A second important observation that went unmentioned in my previous paper was patient individuality in relation to pursuit of treatment. It is unwise to seek a cookie-cutter course of action for each patient, because no patient is the same. Perhaps vitamins are all one woman needs in order to resolve her symptoms, whereas another woman might need a combination of drug therapy and counseling in order to work through her symptoms. Brain chemistry is not standardized, and treatment options shouldn't be either.

In science, it seems you can never really rule any one thing out. Nothing is entirely conclusive, and observations are the basis of all further pursuits of knowledge. In rejecting the idea that vitamins may have beneficial properties, we are no better than Tom Cruise asserting that psychiatry is a mere 'pseudo-science'. Just because something seems unorthodox, doesn't make it wrong; and just because something has become somewhat of a 'norm' doesn't make it right.

Works Cited from Original Paper

(1) Brooke Shields' Op-Ed from The New York Times, July 2005. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/01/opinion/01shields.html?ei=5090en=7189d307fdb5772dex=1277870400

(2) Transcript from NBC's Today show with Matt Lauer, June 2005.

(3) A Brief Introduction to Postpartum Illness, Authored by Shoshana S. Bennett PhD., 2003.

(4) Synopsis of the Andrea Yates Case, courtesy of the Court TV Crime Library. http://www.crimelibrary.com/notorious_murders/women/andrea_yates/index.html

(5) BioNeurix review of Amoryn, an all natural treatment for depression. http://www.amoryn.com/formula_bvitamins.html

(6) "Altering the Brain's Chemistry to Elevate Mood", Brown, Gaby, and Reichert

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