In the months after the birth of her daughter, Raleigh resident Kerri Hall slipped into a deep and debilitating depression.
“I was psychotic,” Hall said to the hushed crowd gathered at UNC Hospitals Thursday to celebrate the opening of UNC’s inpatient perinatal psychiatry unit.
“If I had gotten the kind of dedicated and specialized care that these women are getting today, life would have been very, very different for me,” Hall said.
One in 10 women suffer from postpartum depression following childbirth.
In some cases, the depression can become so severe that new mothers have thoughts of harming themselves or their babies.
“Think of it as an intensive care unit for women severely affected by depression,” said Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody, director of the facility.
She said she hopes women like Hall will be referred to the unit.
The inpatient wing can hold up to five patients and will offer a range of intensive sessions from mother-infant attachment therapy to therapy aimed at addressing the partner’s role in helping to conquer depression.
The unit is the nation’s first free-standing perinatal psychiatry center.
Meltzer-Brody said the unit’s staff hopes their success in treating patients will show other hospitals there is a need for such treatment.
Chairman of the UNC Department of Psychiatry David Rubinow said most women suffer from postpartum depression in silence.
“That silence ends today,” Rubinow said.
“I am very, very proud of UNC for proclaiming that women are important and that their children are important and that their depression is real,” he said.
More than 12 patients have been treated since the unit opened on Aug. 15. Eileen Spahl, director of nursing for the psychiatry unit, said she has seen dramatic improvements in the women who have been treated.
“You can see the difference,” Spahl said.
“They come in tearful and anxious and it’s almost like they bloom … especially when they get to talk to the other women and realize that they’re not alone and that they will come out on the other side of this.”
Five years after struggling to conquer her depression, Hall has become a vocal advocate for women suffering from the disorder.
She recalled the sister of a friend who, after suffering from postpartum depression, committed suicide.
Her voice shook as she read a letter from U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., commending the opening of the unit.
“I’ve shared my story with many people, and everyone I’ve talked to has known someone,” Hall said.
“Thank God there’s somewhere in the nation that people can go and get help.”
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