'Melanie's Law' Benefits Research into Postpartum Depression
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Her baby was just three months old when Melanie Stokes threw herself from the 12th floor of a Chicago hotel.
The 39-year-old suffered from postpartum psychosis, and little was known about the condition when Stokes killed herself in 2001. Now, Congress has passed "Melanie's Law" as part of health care reform funding to provide $3 million for education and research into postpartum depression.
It also requires officials at the federal Department of Health and Human Services to study the benefits of screening women for the condition.
"I walked and begged and pleaded to get this bill passed," Stokes' mother, Carol Blocker, tells the Chicago Tribune. "I couldn't save my daughter, and I will never get over her death, but this will save someone else's daughter's life."
Since her daughter's death, Blocker has become a one-woman support system for women suffering from postpartum illnesses, including many in prison who are shunned by their own families.
At least 15 to 20 percent of women who give birth are believed to suffer from postpartum depression, Sarah Allen, chair of the Postpartum Depression Alliance of Illinois, tells the Tribune.
But more awareness of postpartum depression and psychosis has been made in recent years, and many hospitals screen new mothers, Allen tells the Tribune.
Dr. Vesna Pirec, a psychiatrist who directs the Women's Mental Health Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago, tells the Tribune postpartum depression is linked to a sudden drop in hormones after a baby is born, as well as psychosocial stresses, such as feeling isolated or out of control.
Men feel that stress, as well. The American Medical Association published a study this month concluding that a significant number of new fathers also suffer from postpartum depression.
Stokes' daughter, Sommer Skyy, is now 9, lives with Blocker and is a student at the Lenart Elementary Regional Gifted Center in Chicago. She knows what happened to her mother, Blocker tells the Tribune, but only in an abstract way.
"I tell her, 'Your mother's making history through this law,' " Blocker tells the newspaper.
"Melanie was cheated out of this, cheated out of something she loved and prayed for," Blocker adds. "And Sommer was cheated out of a wonderful mother."
Related: Postpartum Depression Affects Dads, Too