A Postpartum Depression Awareness Ad Is Rubbing a Lot of People the Wrong Way

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A biotech company with a promising treatment for postpartum depression has come under fire recently for an ad campaign intended to raise awareness of postpartum depression. In an attempt to encourage women to open up and speak about the realities of postpartum depression, it ran an ad campaign with posters, ads, and even city buses covered in images of women with pacifiers in their mouths, and critics say the campaign’s intentions might be good, but the imagery is trivializing and infantalizing.

It’s clear what Sage Therapeutics was going for when they approved this ad campaign of women sucking on pacifiers alongside the tagline “silence sucks.” Pacifiers are a baby product, and they also symbolize quietness.  A woman sucking on a pacifier can’t talk. But still, critics say the image of a woman sucking on a pacifier is “infantalizing,” and that this is just a weird visual to go alongside a campaign about postpartum depression.

“Even if they had just used the pacifier alone, that would have been better than having women experiencing rage, pain, and sadness with baby pacifiers in their mouths,” said psychotherapist and postpartum depression specialist Mara Acel-Green in an interview with Stat News.

Acel-Green also says she personally would have preferred the ad campaign to target healthcare providers. Instead of trying to get women to open up and tell people about their struggles with negative thoughts and feelings after having a baby, she thinks it would be very useful to address doctors and healthcare providers and try to get them to ask questions and screen their patients for postpartum depression.

Postpartum depression often goes undiagnosed, in part because women don’t feel comfortable opening up about their experiences. But postpartum depression is extremely common, and Acel-Green says it would be a big help if doctors asked new mothers about their feelings. Doctors are constantly asking questions like how much is the baby eating, how often does it poop, how long does it sleep, etc. It might also be useful if they asked the mother if she was experiencing unusual feelings of anxiety, anger, or grief.

The visual of a woman with a pacifier in her mouth might be off-putting, but Sage Therapeutics had its heart in the right place when it took out these ads. Talking about postpartum depression is extremely important. It’s the most common pregnancy complication, and still many cases go undiagnosed because women don’t necessarily recognize the symptoms. That’s why’s so helpful when someone like Chrissy Teigen describes her experiences with PPD, because she can reach thousands of women who might be sitting at home reading her story and thinking, “The things she is describing sound very familiar. Could I have postpartum depression?”

What do you think of the pacifier ads? Let us know in the comments.

(Image: iStockPhoto / djedzura)