Is Having Children More Important Than Your Mental Health?
In the latest news on divesting women of their choices, we have a psychiatrist urging women to discontinue medication for mental illnesses lest it hurt their unborn children.
Recently Dr. Louise Howard, a leading psychiatrist of women’s mental health in England, spoke at a press briefing. She suggested that women of child-bearing age should no longer be prescribed anti-depressants or anti-psychotic drugs because these drugs could negatively affect a potential fetus.
Dr. Howard rationalized her caveat by saying about “because 50 percent of pregnancies are unplanned.”
According to americanpregnancy.org, about 47%, or 3,000,000 pregnancies, are unplanned each year. Since this psychiatrist is based in England, I looked up the rate of unplanned pregnancies in the UK. This BBC report indicates that about 40% of pregnancies are unplanned.
I was slightly surprised to see that unplanned pregnancies rates were so high, but the fact of the matter is that this should not play a part in the decision of whether or not to receive medication.
In 2012, we have our Todd Akin’s “forcible rape” definition and our Mitt Romney’s gem: “I recognized that if you’re going to have women in the workforce that sometimes you need to be more flexible. My chief of staff, for instance, had two kids that were still in school. She said, I can’t be here until 7 or 8 o’clock at night. I need to be able to get home at 5 o’clock so I can be there for making dinner for my kids and being with them when they get home from school.”
Are these statements not enough to degrade women? Dr. Howard could have simply stated that there are possible teratogenic effects on a fetus if the mother ingests anti-depressants or anti-psychotic drugs. I would have accepted that.
But instead, she cautioned all women of child-bearing age to discontinue or wean off of medications. Very easy, right?
For someone who has been on anti-depressants, and as a friend of many people who take these and other drugs for mental illnesses, it is extremely difficult to completely stop taking medication. While it is definitely possible to wean off of medication, quitting cold turkey has been shown to have more negative effects shortly after discontinuance rather than gradually decreasing the dosage.
While these medications do produce negative effects on the fetus, Dr. Howard herself even states, “The risks of taking most antidepressants are very, very small, and only a small number of treatments for severe mental health problems are known to cause significant side effects.”
So let me get this straight. If the risks are “very, very” (she did indeed use two verys) small, then why is she suggesting that any women of child-bearing age no longer improve their mental health with medication?
By the way, her solution to removing medication? “For mild to moderate illnesses, psychological therapies are available and they would be first line.”
The “switch from talk therapy to medications has swept psychiatric practices and hospitals,” leaving many women with no options, said the New York Times. The limited number of talk therapy alternatives coupled with the heavier financial burden of talk therapy compared to medication make discontinuing medication an even greater risk.
It is ludicrous to (theoretically) prevent women from the age of thirteen through fifty-five treatment that may save their lives, which they are currently living, in order to possibly save the life of an unborn fetus in the quasi distant future.
Whether a woman has a planned or unplanned pregnancy, the decisions to carry the fetus to term, to terminate it, or to continue or discontinue medication belong to them. These decisions should not be mandated by politicians, by the Supreme Court, or by healthcare providers. A woman has the right to decide what she does with her body, and to tell her otherwise strips her of her autonomy.
Written by Nikki Del Casale