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Giving Back Blog

  • Writer's pictureAscension Illinois Foundation

Helping Heather Heal from Postpartum Depression


Heather with her child

After being diagnosed with postpartum depression, Heather received the help she needed at Ascension Illinois's perinatal intensive outpatient program.


A few weeks after giving birth to her daughter, Heather began feeling intensely sad.


“It wasn’t life in general. It wasn’t anxiety about work. It wasn’t about my family. It was about the baby and motherhood,” she said.


She recognized she was experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression, and following her doctor’s advice, sought treatment: First, five days as an inpatient at a mental health treatment facility in Louisiana, where she lived; several weeks later, when her depression symptoms returned, for seven days at a psychiatric hospital in a different town. Both facilities treated her for general depression, but Heather needed treatment specific to her postpartum mental health.


“With postpartum, yes, it’s depression, and yes, it’s anxiety, but it is not general,” she said. “It is so specific to that baby. And no one understood that until I got to Ascension.”

Feeling like she had exhausted her treatment options in Louisiana, Heather traveled to the Chicago area with her baby to stay with her parents and seek other treatment options. At a hospital outside of Chicago, she was admitted to an inpatient psychiatric unit, where she received 11 days of treatment for general depression.


“It wasn’t the kind of care that I needed,” Heather said. “As we looked at next steps, we heard about the perinatal intensive outpatient program at Ascension.”



Illinois’s only perinatal intensive outpatient program

Postpartum depression occurs in 10% to 20% of new parents, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. Unlike typical “baby blues,” it interferes for a prolonged period of time with daily living and with a new parent’s ability to function. Moms or dads who experience postpartum depression may experience extreme emotional highs and lows, uncontrollable and frequent crying spells, anxiety, anger, irritability or despair. They may struggle with insomnia, fatigue, and feelings of guilt or worthlessness. They also may have a difficult time feeling affectionate toward or taking care of their baby.


The perinatal intensive outpatient program at Ascension Illinois started in August 2015 to address the needs of new or expecting mothers and fathers who were experiencing anxiety and depression related to their pregnancy or parenthood. It is the only program of its kind in Illinois. In fiscal year 2022, 176 women received treatment in the program.


“Our team of perinatal mental health specialists take referrals from our entire system, from obstetricians, maternal fetal medicine specialists, pediatricians and primary care physicians,” said Kimberly McCue, PhD, PMH-C, clinical supervisor of the program. “They do a full screening that doesn’t require insurance or costs. They evaluate what level of care each mom needs and refer them.


“With this program, you don’t feel as scared.”

After her intake assessment, Heather was referred to Ascension Illinois's intensive outpatient program and began attending virtual sessions.


“The specific nature of the perinatal intensive outpatient program is something that I wish every state had for all the women who suffer with this, especially the women who suffer silently,” said Heather. “With this program you don’t feel as scared.”


Xiaohong Yu, MD, a psychiatrist who helps run the program, said the intensive outpatient program is the bridge between outpatient therapy and partial hospitalization or inpatient treatment. “We offer the patient unique care, including screening, making the correct diagnosis, and giving them the right medications,” she said. “Because of that, our case number is increasing, especially during the pandemic.”



Family-centered healing

Heather said she was grateful the program was offered virtually to her when she needed it. She said meeting with other moms who also were experiencing postpartum depression was a relief; it helped her to know that she was not alone. She heard from mothers who were doing much better than when they had first started the program, which gave her hope that she too would improve. All the therapists and nurses in the program are trained specifically in perinatal health. A psychiatrist helped her build a new medication plan, and her husband was able to join virtually for family therapy sessions.


“It wasn’t just about me,” Heather said. “It was about my support team, too.”


Heather attended the program for nine weeks, while living with her parents as they helped her take care of the baby. “I am eternally grateful to the program for being there,” she said. Thanks to the help she received, she is back in Louisiana and doing well, as are her daughter and husband.

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Emily Dagostino

Director, Communications

Ascension Illinois Foundation

708-829-4167

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