This PPD Campaign Misses The Mark So Far It's Ridiculous

by Maria Guido
Originally Published: 
Image via Sage Therapeutics

Silence sucks

Sage Therapeutics is a biotech company developing an experimental treatment for postpartum depression. Early clinical trials show it’s a well tolerated drug with very promising results. Its marketing, however, needs some work.

The driving images of the campaign are grown women sucking on pacifiers. Mix in a dose of seriously guilt-ridden blamey text — and we have ourselves the PPD campaign from hell.

The predominant text of the ad reads, “Silence sucks.” Wrapped around the text is this context, “PPD is the most common medical complication of childbirth. That’s worth a conversation — for you and your baby.”

Image via Sage Therapeutics

Image via Sage Therapeutics

A group of executives actually approved an image of a crying woman with a pacifier shoved in her mouth as an awareness campaign for PPD. And if that wasn’t bad enough, added enough guilt to push a woman actually struggling with PPD and reaching out for help over the edge.

Here are a few infographics from the Sage Therapeutics campaign, called “Silence Sucks”:

You’re feeling awful, aren’t you, new mom? Well, browse around this website and we’ll promise to make you feel worse.

“PPD can cause you distress and make it more difficult to bond with your newborn. When your relationship with your baby isn’t strong, it can hinder your baby’s physical, mental, and emotional development.” Just in case you weren’t feeling shitty enough, we’ll remind you that all the things you’re feeling now take a backseat to your child’s well being.

How about this? How about — sometimes we matter, too. A woman who is experiencing the pain of PPD does not need to be told that what she’s going through is harming her baby. It’s the last thing she needs to be told. This choice of wording isn’t only unfortunate, it implies a woman is simply choosing to be sad and depressed instead of reaching out for help. That’s not how depression works. That’s not how PPD works.

Yes, PPD silence does suck. I was never asked once by my doctor how my mental state was after the birth of my first child — and I was crying every day for months. This campaign would not have helped. It just would have added to the long list of things I was sure I was doing wrong at the time.

The ad completely puts the ball in our court, implying the reason we don’t get the help we need is because we are silent about how we’re feeling — and if that’s not bad enough, it doubles down with some “and you’re probably harming your baby.”

How about we erode the stigmas around PPD, instead of acting like the only reason it persists is because women aren’t seeking help? How about a campaign urging people to recognize the signs of PPD and reach out? How about anything other than this:

A commenter on Sage Therapeutics Instagram post spoke out. “Postpartum depression is an issue that is very polarizing (since it is often deemed ‘imaginary’ by male-based media), and isolating for the women who experience it,” they wrote. “Showing adult women sucking on pacifiers while crying does nothing to legitimize the emotions experienced by women during postpartum depression, but rather, diminishes and trivializes their experiences.” Sage Therapeutics responded, “We understand your concern and want to let you know that we worked closely with key stakeholders in the development of this campaign, including women who have experienced PPD, women who are at risk for developing PPD, and national maternal mental health advocacy organizations. Further, the campaign was validated by leading physicians to ensure we understood the range of typical patient experiences.”

Translation: We talked to some experts who told us a great way to sell women PPD drugs was to repeatedly drill in the fact that they may be harming their babies. Guilt! Women respond to guilt! Oh, and blame. Throw some blame in there, too.

“During an episode of postpartum depression, feelings of guilt, shame, or fear can be significant barriers that prevent women from speaking up about their symptoms,” Dr. Steve Kanes, the chief medical officer at Sage, tells StatNews. Right. Which is why this campaign is so confusing.

“We are committed to breaking the silence around PPD and hope this campaign encourages women and their doctors to have an open and honest conversation about PPD,” Sage Therapeutics insists on their Instagram post.

A for effort, but you should get back to the drawing board, STAT.

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