Five years ago, Vermont was awarded a grant to address mental health issues typically experienced by women who’ve just given birth. Three years in, and a great deal of work has been done, but the grant doesn’t last forever.

Lauren Norford, manager of early childhood services at Rutland Mental Health Services, said Tuesday that on June 26 the public is invited to “Climb Out of the Darkness,” an event sponsored by Postpartum Support International. In Rutland, the event will begin at the Rutland Recreation Community Center, starting at 10 a.m. People have to register ahead of time. Norford is one of the local climb leaders and can be reached at 802-786-7388 or by emailing lnorford@rmhsccn.org.

In Montpelier, the event is on the same day and time and starts on the State House lawn, said Gretchen Elias, executive director of Good Beginnings of Central Vermont. She can be contacted at 802-595-7953. The website goodbeginningscentralvt.org will also have information on how to participate.

Elias said the Montpelier event is less of a climb and more of a stroll. Those who wish for a more vertical experience can participate in a climb slated for the week before. Visit facebook.com/goodbeginningsvt where those interested can follow as more details are worked out.

Norford said the grant the state received for boosting support for postpartum mood disorders has another two years left on it, so awareness needs to be raised to keep certain programs running, like the support group at the Wonderfeet Kids’ Museum.

She said postpartum depression, which can also be postpartum anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, and even psychosis, impacts one in five women, and one in three women of color.

“I don’t have an exact number, but anecdotally a lot of women do not seek treatment because it’s considered ... they’re supposed to be happy, they have a baby, that’s usually healthy, and everyone is basically saying, what’s wrong with you if everything came out OK, why are you crying, or why are you anxious, or why are you having intrusive thoughts?” she said.

It’s thought that much of postpartum depression relates to changes in the woman’s body brought on by pregnancy and childbirth, but there are other factors, she said, which is why even men can experience it. About 10% of new fathers report postpartum depression, she said.

“You definitely want to address it because with any type of depression or anxiety, you don’t want someone to suffer alone, you want them to know there is help available,” she said. “People who are depressed are at higher risk for suicide or even, not intending to, but the harming of a baby. We mostly want people to know that help is available and they don’t have to tough it out. They can get help, and they’re not alone.”

Postpartum depression can develop earlier and last for longer than many people think, said Elias.

“I think we’ve been making a lot of headway in the last few years with shining a light on it and helping to break down the stigma, but it is a time of life where you can feel a lot of pressure to be happy or to act happy,” she said. “It can be really hard and complicated, all the feelings you might be experiencing related to the transition into having this new baby.”

Elias said she herself felt depressed for about a year after the birth of her first child. She was never diagnosed and said her case was mild.

“I remember it was around her 1st birthday when I felt something shift,” she said. “And I’ve told that to moms that come to Good Beginnings.”

keith.whitcomb @rutlandherald.com

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