The Victorian period is full of canonical literature from women writers. Charlotte Brontë and Jane Austen paved the way for later writers like Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield. And much has been written about the prevalent theme of madness that serves as a common thread to underpin all of these works. The suspicion of the woman as “unstable” and prone to madness is embedded in the bedrock of western culture, through such classics as Medea and continued through early and medieval Christian assumptions that women were more prone to heresy and demonic possession. The later development of the asylum allowed for a more general accusation of mental illness to permeate the fears of women. Michelle Iwen writes:
While women’s proportion of admission did rise modestly above that of men, I believe that it was the nature of confinement that so effected women’s writing enough to perpetuate the concept of the unruly woman unjustly confined which, in turn, helped advance this idea in popular culture and eventually into medical discourse, in a vicious, self-perpetuating cycle. It was this cycle which led to the trope becoming reality in the 19th century as women internalized this threat because of its unique dangers to what was believed to be their inherent female qualities.
The idea that certain female characteristics need to be bridled has not escaped our contemporary writers, nor has it’s hum faded from the background of women’s lives. I experienced these inherited fears myself when I, like most new mothers, was given my first questionnaire on depression from my family physician. Sleep deprived, with images of Vivienne Eliot in my mind, I filled in the blanks.
As you have recently had a baby, we would like to know how you are feeling. Please UNDERLINE the answer which comes closest to how you have felt IN THE PAST 7 DAYS, not just how you feel today.
I have been able to laugh and see the funny side of things.As much as I always could
Not quite so much now
Definitely not so much now
Not at all
I have looked forward with enjoyment to things.As much as I ever did
Rather less than I used to
Definitely less than I used to
Hardly at all […]
This article brought back the memories of these questionnaires.
An influential medical group says pediatricians should routinely screen new mothers for depression. Depression isn’t just bad for moms: It can also harm their babies.
That’s according to a new American Academy of Pediatrics report published Monday in the journal, Pediatrics. It cites research showing developmental and social delays in babies with depressed mothers.
The academy says that every year more than 400,000 babies are born to depressed women. Estimates say that between 5 per cent and 25 per cent of women develop postpartum depression.
The pediatrics academy says severely depressed women should be referred to experts for treatment.
There’s no simple way to screen women, women having feared being institutionalized for centuries. While we need screening, I would advise extreme caution to physicians who choose to use generalized tools like these questionnaires. Relying on the answers from these tools will not only give inaccurate results, but may put women and their children in danger. Instead, emphasize the commonality of postpartum depression, look for the more obvious signs, and provide accessible counselling to not only the obviously depressed but perhaps to all new mothers. And of course, avoid words like “treatment”.by