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One dad's crusade: Know signs of postpartum depression

Published on: October 01, 2004

When you walk in to the recently opened Greek restaurant, Vios, on
Capitol Hill, every detail welcomes families. There's a giant
children's play area, complete with sturdy refrigerator and range and
plastic food. Large black-and-white photographs of children and parents
decorate an apple-green wall.

One of the prints shows restaurant owner and chef Thomas Soukakos
sharing a lollipop with his son, Alexander. There's no mother in that
picture because his wife, Carol, suffered severe postpartum depression
and killed herself when Alexander was four months old.

Soukakos closed another restaurant they had built together and opened
Vios, which he has dedicated to the cause of helping families and his
community. He also wants to spread an educational message about
postpartum depression that may save other lives.

Q: Why are you crusading to help educate fathers about postpartum depression?

Because I have known the hard way, the consequences. Everybody talks
about the good things during pregnancy, not responsibility or the
stress that enters your life. When it is your first time, and you are
working parents, it is hard. You may bring to the pregnancy certain
medical or other things from earlier in your life that make you
vulnerable (to depression). The midwives and doctors don't ask enough
questions to know if a woman is at risk. They don't provide enough
education to prepare parents for the extreme changes in a woman's body
during the first few weeks.

Q: What is one of the biggest barriers to women getting help right after childbirth?

Information. Not enough of it. Everyone (in the new family) is
overwhelmed mentally and physically. Men have no idea what is going on
with women most of the time . . . but after childbirth, we really have
no idea.

Q: Are new fathers in a special position to observe the signs of postpartum depression?

Not if they aren't educated to notice the signs. (See sidebar, this
page.) I was going to providers with my wife, Carol, and they were
giving her books to read and positive feedback. They were telling her
"everything is going to be fine." She couldn't believe the feelings she
was having. All these people whom she saw, they didn't recognize it.

Besides extra screening for depression before and after women deliver
their babies, are there other changes you wish for here in Washington?

I would like to see a designated section of the hospital for delivery
for women who are judged at risk for postpartum depression. I think
there is a social obligation that we all have to prevent this from
happening. I would like to see screening earlier that may not diagnose,
but can identify women at higher risk.

What has been the response to your going public with your wife's
illness and inviting people to contact you about this disorder?

I have had a couple of hundred letters and emails about my crusade.
Somebody called me whose sister committed suicide in Minnesota. I made
myself available. I would rather make myself available for speaking to
groups before, to prevent it from happening.

Q: Do you feel fathers need more information, not just about postpartum depression?

I would like to start a support group for single fathers. I don't think
they have enough help in the community. We aren't made for the job. I
don't think fathers hear enough during the pregnancy about postpartum
depression and other things. I think it is important to support single
fathers to keep this society healthy.

Most single parents are overwhelmed with a job and a child. You have a
new restaurant, and a toddler and a crusade. How do you manage?

Well, I don't really have a choice, do I? I recognize the good in what
I am doing. I pray to be able to sustain it and stay healthy.
Signs of postpartum depression:
Sluggishness, fatigue, exhaustion
Sadness, depression, hopelessness
Appetite and sleep disturbances
Poor concentration, confusion
Memory loss
Too much concern for the baby
Uncontrollable crying, irritability
Guilt, inadequacy, worthlessness
Lack of interest in the baby
Fear of harming the baby or yourself
Fear of losing control or "going crazy"
Exaggerated highs and/or lows
Lack of interest in sex
Intrusive thoughts

Sally James is a parent and Seattle freelance writer.

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