Only half of women who suffer from postpartum depression actually get help. Dr. Dodds and her colleagues at Atrium Health recognized this gap in care and decided to do something about it.

Women's Health, Family Health | 3 years ago

Shining a Light on Postpartum Depression

Only half of women who suffer from postpartum depression actually get help. Dr. Dodds and her colleagues at Atrium Health recognized this gap in care and decided to do something about it.


Shortly after Kionna Dockery, a nurse at Atrium Health, had her son, DJ, she noticed a sudden change in her mood. 

From the first moment Kionna laid eyes on DJ, she was completely in love. Her son was happy and healthy, which filled her with so much gratitude. But, she also experienced other feelings that she didn’t quite understand.

“I had mood swings – a lot of mood swings – and would become very emotional for no apparent reason.”

She also felt irritable, anxious, weepy and just very sad.

Postpartum depression (PPD) symptoms can include feeling sad, hopeless or overwhelmed; having trouble bonding or forming an emotional attachment with your baby; and, in some cases, thoughts about harming yourself or your baby. 

Two weeks after having DJ, Kionna reached out to her OB/GYN for help. During that appointment, she learned about a postpartum depression program, offered by Atrium Health, which turned out to be exactly what she needed.  

The Postpartum Gap

Because Kionna has a background in nursing, she was able to recognize the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression in herself and felt comfortable going to her doctor for help. But that’s not always the case for women with PPD.

“One in five women going through pregnancy experiences significant mood and anxiety problems beyond the baby blues,” says Cheryl Dodds, MD, a psychiatrist at Atrium Health. “But, only 50% of women who experience postpartum depression actually get help.”

This gap most likely exists because of a lack of education around postpartum depression, which is often mistaken as a temporary funk known as the baby blues. And the myths of motherhood may play a role as well – that it’s supposed to be this wonderful, glorious time when everyone is always happy.

The reality is, a lot of women experience postpartum depression. And asking for help is so important, because some of the risks associated with untreated PPD can be quite severe.

“If you’re depressed and taking care of a baby and do not get help for your mood, the baby has a higher chance of being developmentally delayed at a year,” says Dr. Dodds. “And the number one reason women die following pregnancy is not wound infection or bleeding – it’s suicide.”

Determined to help prevent that type of loss, Dr. Dodds and her colleagues at Atrium Health decided to create something new. 

A Wellness Program Designed Around Postpartum Depression

Atrium Heath’s Maternal Wellness Program first took shape in 2017 – and it’s still growing.

It provides a safe, comfortable environment where PPD patients can get the care they need, in a timely manner, from experts, including psychiatrists, with specialized training in prenatal (before birth) and perinatal (after birth) mood disorders and anxiety.

The program also offers a weekly psychoeducational therapeutic group – where babies are welcome – that teaches participants relaxation techniques, how to better cope with PPD symptoms and about the transition into motherhood.

For Kionna, this psychoeducational therapeutic group has made all the difference.

“It’s been so helpful to come in and talk and know that these other women are going through the same thing that you’re going through – that it’s normal – and that you’re not alone in it.

“Without this group, I don’t think I’d be where I am now. I don’t think I’d have the bond I have with my son.”

In addition to outpatient services like therapy and the psychoeducational group, inpatient services are available to pregnant or newly delivered women who need intensive care for PPD. 

For now, the Maternal Wellness Program is only offered at Atrium Health Behavioral Health Davidson, a facility of Carolinas Medical Center and part of Atrium Health, but there are plans to expand to Charlotte and other areas within Atrium Health’s footprint. Offering virtual maternal wellness services to obstetric practices within Atrium Health is also in the works.

To be enrolled in our Maternal Wellness Program, call our clinic at 704-801-9200.

If you or a loved one is in need of assistance, Atrium Health’s Behavioral Health Help Line is available 24/7 at 704-444-2400.