The Emily Effect: ‘There is help, you are not alone’

Local News

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Postpartum depression and anxiety is something nearly one in every two women in Utah deal with.

On Monday night, ABC4 shared Emily Dyches’s story, a mother of five who loved life and her family.

It was after her fifth baby that Emily suffered an intense battle with postpartum depression and anxiety. During a panic attack in 2016, she was tragically killed.

Now five years later, her life and death continue shinning a light on the issue.

ABC4 is diving into signs, symptoms, and most importantly, resources that can help you or your loved ones make it through.

“Sometimes it was hard to know how much Emily was struggling,” says Megan Johnson, co-founder of The Emily Effect.

From the outside, many had no idea.   

Johnson added, “We were doing things together, talking on the phone, attending things.”

But deep inside, Megan’s oldest sister, Emily was cycling in and out of severe postpartum anxiety, which took ahold of her life after her fifth baby.  

“It was a persistent worry, a need to control things, then feeling anxiety about not being able to control things to the point that it impaired her daily function,” says Johnson. “She was struggling to nurse and was really fixated on that. She was struggling with sleeping.”

It was the spring of 2015, Emily and her husband Eric turned to their OBGYN, then a physiatrist, a therapist, anything to try to help.

“At the time, we were frustrated because we didn’t feel like there were resources specific to her needs,” says Johnson. 

In January 2016, as a last resort, Emily checked in to an inpatient facility. She would return home a week and a half later.

Johnson says, “She came away with some things that were helpful. She seemed to be doing better.”

After just two weeks of feeling better, Emily would suffer a severe panic attack while on a drive with her father. He pulled over, she tried to run.  

Johnson says, “In a panicked state, she ran up the freeway and a semi-truck came up and couldn’t avoid her. We lost her that day.”

Emily’s death was all over the news. The family, left devastated, decided that Emily’s story would not end there. 

“Emily’s story will be relevant,” says Johnson. “As long as moms are having babies, they are going to be going through a wide range of issues still.”

It’s the story of perinatal mood disorders and anxiety and that no person is immune to. The illness affects more women than you may think.

Johnson says, “New moms are getting diagnosed every day. Almost 43% of Utah moms are experiencing depression or anxiety either during pregnancy or postpartum.”

Brook Dorff, a maternal mental health specialist with the Utah Department of Health, says a mother’s mental well-being needs to be a priority.

Dorff adds, “This is arguable the most important thing we can work on here in Utah.”

With nearly one out of every two women dealing with postpartum anxiety or depression in Utah, chances are you or someone you love are experiencing it.

But how do you know?

Some symptoms include feelings of anger, fear, guilt, lack of interest in baby or appetite, and sleep issues. Some symptoms differ and vary in severity for each woman. 

Dorff says, “A big red flag is ‘I don’t feel like myself anymore” or a partner saying ‘You don’t seem like yourself anymore.'”

Symptoms can occur throughout a wide range of time.  

“A study just came out that says one in four moms experience severe postpartum depression up to three years postpartum,” says Dorff. 

But there is help.

Dorff recommends mothers who suspect they are suffering from PPD have an honest talk with their doctor or pediatrician.  

“When you start to attend therapy or help, it feels like you are not treading water alone,” Dorff says. “You’ll feel like you’ve found the edge of the pool.”

Know there is a range of services available to women, including a growing list of resources compiled at Maternal Mental Health Utah.

A resource, Dorff says, could have made it easier for Emily five years ago.  

“I think one of the greatest changes in the last five years is these conversations about maternal mental health and how the mom is really doing is improved drastically,” says Dorff.

To help destigmatize these disorders, “The Emily Effect” was created, a foundation in Emily’s honor. It’s dedicated to compiling resources for postpartum women and providing a place to share stories of mothers suffering but finding relief, allowing them a chance to connect.

“Do you think Emily is proud?” asks ABC4 News Anchor Emily Florez. “Yes, I know Emily is very proud,” says Dorff.” I know she has been very much a part of not only our work but the work being done by so many who care about this cause.” 

Because every woman’s story is so unique and each story varies in severity, The Emily Effect foundation hopes to compile more video’s of women sharing their stories to help other mothers in need.

Those who want to help may donate on their website.

Dorff adds that perinatal, pregnant, and postpartum women are the most amenable to treatment, meaning they take less treatment and fewer therapy sessions than any other group of people ever.

There is help, you are not alone.

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