Fans of ABC’s soapy songfest “Nashville” got a whole lot to chew on in the third season finale last Wednesday. Gunnar and Scarlett might be getting back together (ugh, again), Will came out in a press conference (finally!) and Layla just might be being held hostage by her manager/lover (4eva a victim). Don’t even get me started on Deacon’s operation cliffhanger.
But one storyline that caught the attention of the editors at The Huffington Post is the depiction of Juliette Barnes’ violent descent into postpartum depression, culminating in a scene where she throws a big glass snow globe at her husband while he’s holding their baby.
Juliette's management team finally realized that something was off in the penultimate episode, when poor little Cadence hadn’t been fed or changed in hours while under her mother’s care. To make matters worse, Juliette didn’t seem to have any interest in holding her baby after days spent manically recording her album. By the season finale, after an intervention with her doctor and Avery’s multiple entreaties failed to interest Juliette in therapy, he and Cadence pack up their bags and head off into the night, leaving the beautiful, troubled songstress alone in her big house.
While Juliette’s irritability, anger and an inability to connect are certainly symptoms of postpartum depression, Chicago-based psychologist Susan Benjamin Feingold wants to emphasize to viewers that most women struggling with PPD are not neglectful moms who struggle to connect with their infants. Instead, she explained, a good number of moms with PPD may in fact be too attached to their infants, and too suspicious of anyone else in their life to allow someone else to care for their baby besides them.
"My only problem a lot of times with shows like ['Nashville'] is women watching it might think, 'I don’t feel like that! I would never throw anything! I’m very connected!'” Feingold told HuffPost. "But in fact some women [with postpartum depression] might also feel too connected -- they wouldn’t let someone sit with their baby, or they wouldn’t let their baby out of their sight."
Feingold, who is also the author of the book Happy Endings, New Beginnings: Navigating Postpartum Disorders, reviewed pertinent clips from the show and is happy that “Nashville” is taking the time to depict a complex and common issue over multiple episodes. However, she hopes viewers don’t get the impression that women with postpartum depression are always neglectful or violent.
"In some ways, any publicity is good publicity because it at least makes people feel more aware," said Feingold. "My only concern is that the public shouldn’t get the idea that women who have postpartum depression are neglectful of their children, because I don’t find that to be the case."
Wendy Davis, executive director of the advocacy group Postpartum Support International, praised the show too for bringing awareness to an often taboo subject -- and for depicting a partner's struggle alongside the mom.
"I appreciated so much about how they portrayed Juliette’s postpartum experience, and how well they showed Avery’s cycles of hope and despair," she wrote in an email to HuffPost.
The American Psychological Association estimates that between nine and 16 percent of postpartum women will experience depression, and that number jumps to 41 percent if they’ve experienced it before. A 2015 study of over 8,200 women from seven different countries found that the women with extreme symptoms actually began showing signs of depression during the pregnancy -- something faithful "Nashville" viewers will recognize in the depiction of Juliette’s troubled, increasingly erratic state of mind during her pregnancy.
The condition can present itself in a number of different ways. In addition to how Juliette was unable to connect with her child, some mothers might be anxious or have panic attacks. Some might be plagued with obsessive or disturbing thoughts about their child being in danger. And some may simply be feeling sad.
"A lot of women will say to me, 'I’m crying and feeling sad, but I love my baby -- this is what I wanted!’” said Feingold. "So it’s sort of confusing to them why they’re feeling so depressed when they’re so happy to have the baby."
Feingold’s appraisal of Juliette’s storyline isn’t completely skeptical. Like Davis, she also praised “Nashville” for depicting Juliette’s partner, Avery, as he struggles to get through to her. His solo visit to a therapist when Juliette refuses to come along, or his repeated pleas to “see a doctor” are important messages to get out to the public, said Feingold.
"That’s very admirable for the partner to go -- if the wife is refusing to get help -- to go and search out some help for them and encourage them,” she said.
"There are times when people are in denial, and that is hard, because if they’re not willing to accept that they’ve got something, then they’re not going to go get help,” she continued. "What I’d like people to know is that [PPD] is very treatable, and with treatment, people get well."
Ultimately, said Feingold, “Nashville’s” depiction of postpartum depression should be judged on how they’ll depict Juliette’s recovery in season four. Will therapy (and perhaps medication) be short-term and successful, like it is for so many moms in America? Will they introduce Juliette to a support group of other moms so she can see she’s not alone in her struggle?
"What I’d like to see for Juliette Barnes would be for her to be evaluated [by a doctor]," Feingold concluded. "Is she just a self-absorbed person who can’t connect with anyone, or is she really struggling with postpartum mood disorder, which would mean her depression, anxiety, anger and irritability is out of character?"
We can’t wait to find out.
Are you or someone you love struggling with postpartum depression? Check out Postpartum Support International for facts, support via telephone or online, and help connecting with local providers in your area. Or call 1-800-944-4773.