Thursday, August 19, 2010

Oprah Is At It - Again

Katherine Stone authors an outstanding blog on postpartum disorders, Postpartum Progress. In a December blog piece on my mental health heroes, I cited her as my "Internet Hero" of the year.

Today, Katherine features a contribution from Alexis Lesa. In response to an open request from the Oprah show, Alexis went to the site and entered in a brief account of her experience with postpartum depression. To the surprise of Alexis, the next day she received a follow-up email requesting more information. One of the follow-up questions included:

After your child's birth...are you feel empty and sad instead of elated and excited?

And another:

Are you scared you were going to hurt your child or yourself?

(The badly mangled grammar is theirs.)

As Alexis writes:

I know that the questions were most likely meant to get a broad sense of what PPD is like and I should probably just let it go, but I can’t help myself. ... It seems that people are intent on pigeonholing PPD as a crazy-making disease, one that turns women into baby haters, baby killers.

She adds:

Why is it that the first thing that comes to people’s minds when they hear PPD is “This woman probably doesn’t love her child,” or “This woman is probably going to hurt her child.”? It’s as though all the literature about the range of PPD symptoms simply doesn’t exist--in the eyes of the world, all PPD moms are a danger to themselves or their children. It’s no wonder many women fear speaking out.

Ah, deja vu all over again.

Three years ago, Julie, a producer from Oprah, contacted me. They were interested in doing a show on bipolar. Julie saw my website and wanted to talk. Who doesn't have time to talk to someone from Oprah?

Soon into our phone conversation a day or two later, it became obvious why Julie was calling. She wanted to know about my mad scene. My mad scene of 20 years ago is fairly boring as far as mad scenes go. (I had merely quit my job in a huff.) A total disaster from my point of view, but hardly a newsworthy one. Depression is the real bane of my life, and Julie didn't want to hear about that.

"Did Bipolar Drive a Mother to Kill Her Child?" read the home page of Oprah's website, about a month later. "Tune in Monday."

The show started out with a 911 call: The mother, Andrea, had just confessed to choking her six year-old son. It turned out her idiot family doctor had been giving her antidepressants. In prison (she is serving a 42-year term), a doctor made the right diagnosis, put her on a mood stabilizer, and now she is doing fine, all things considered.

The entire first segment of the show was devoted to Andrea, while nearly all the second featured Andrea's friends. Then Kay Jamison came on. Two minutes. Kay Jamison, two minutes.

Then came "General Hospital" star Maurice Bernard, talking for 10 minutes about his "blow-out" that turned out to be an anxiety attack. The last segment featured actress Jennifer Lewis who turned out to be smart and personable. Then a hurried one-minute wrap-up with Kay Jamison. End of show.

Three years later: Postpartum depression is about to get the Oprah treatment. Many thanks, Katherine, for tipping me off. My suggestion, Katherine: Time to suit up as an internet hero. Maybe Oprah is way too powerful for the likes of us, but we don't have to take this lying down, either.

Time to make some noise ...


alexis said...

Thanks for the heads up about this post, John. I find it so regrettable that a woman with as much media firepower as Oprah doesn't at least attempt to be more responsible when dealing with such sensitive topics. I'm not her biggest fan, but I wrote to her show with the hope that if enough people wrote to tell her what PPD is REALLY like, that she'd get the hint.

I can only pray that my wish will be granted and she'll do the right thing by us PPD mothers.

John McManamy said...

Thanks for commenting, Alexis. I highly suspect Oprah has nothing to do with it. On her bipolar show, it was pretty obvious she was reading off a teleprompter and had not done her homework. The whole thing was scripted and staged by her minions. In contrast, there was an excellent Oprah show dealing with child schizophrenia. So it depends on who is producing the show. Enlightened producer=enlightened Oprah. Sensationalist producer=sensationalist Oprah. My guess is Oprah doesn't care one way or the other. Otherwise there wouldn't be this degree of variance. She's like this with quack cures, too.

I'm so glad you made an attempt to enlighten and that you wrote on Katherine's blog. Speaking out is so important. We'll see what happens.

Ellen said...

You're right, no wonder so many women with ppd are afraid to speak out! I know I was. I'll freely admit my bipolar but ppd hell no I don't want to be labeled as a possible threat to my child, which I am absolutely not!!! Come on now Oprah!!!!!