One dad's crusade: Know signs of postpartum depression
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?
A: 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?
A: 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?
A: 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.
Q: Besides extra screening for depression before and after women deliver their babies, are there other changes you wish for here in Washington?
A: 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.
Q: What has been the response to your going public with your wife's illness and inviting people to contact you about this disorder?
A: 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?
A: 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.
Q: 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?
A: 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 Insomnia Intrusive thoughts (Source: www.depressionafterdelivery.com)
Sally James is a parent and Seattle freelance writer.