Climb Out of the Darkness, or “the Climb,” is an annual awareness event and fundraiser benefiting Postpartum Support International - Georgia Chapter (PSIGA). The Climb is committed to bringing people together to honor the struggle to overcome perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs). Held every year on or near the summer solstice, teams and their supporters gather to “climb out of the darkness” by walking, climbing or hiking together to help shine the light on perinatal mental illness and to raise funds to support the treatment of PMADs.
“It’s a family-friendly event, and it allows the community to come together and show support and solidarity around those touched by PMADs,” said Climb leader and one of this year’s local organizers, Kim Harris. “We have games, food, a nice walk and lots fun.”
The event takes place on June 20 from 10 a.m. until noon at Mill Creek Park.
Harris is joined by Climb leaders Michele Martin and Kristina Brewton for the annual event. This year marks the third time the event has taken place in Statesboro and the world-wide Climb is the largest event raising funds and awareness for the mental health of new families.
The organization promotes awareness, prevention and treatment of mental health issues related to childbearing in Georgia. All of the funds raised by events held in Georgia directly support the training of mental health and prescribing providers to better identify, support and treat those who experience PMADs.
“We’re so excited about the engagement and support this effort has received from the community,” said Harris. “Last year, nearly 50 people, ranging from moms, dads, kids, providers, friends and community supporters, participated in Team Statesboro’s Climb. Our team raised almost $1,500 to contribute to our statewide effort and leveraged $1,500 of in-kind support from the community.”
Harris and her husband, John, do not have children yet, but she said they look forward to becoming parents in the future. John is an assistant professor of Management at Georgia Southern University, and she is a full-time graduate student pursuing her master’s in Public Health with a concentration in Community Health.
Harris became involved with the Climb through her work as a birth doula.
“It was my interest in perinatal mental health that drove my doula practice, so these two pursuits have always gone hand-in-hand for me,” she said. “How people are cared for and treated through the experience of pregnancy, birth and postpartum is so important, especially in terms of social support, and it plays a role for many in whether or not they go on to experience emotional complications.”
Though Harris hasn’t experienced pregnancy, postpartum anxiety or depression, she said she has struggled with her own mental health.
“Learning about resources like doulas or the Climb really started as a way of informing my eventual path to parenthood and how I would need to consider these aspects of my health,” she said.
Michele and Luke Martin are the parents of Andrew, 11, and Jack, 18 months. Michele is an associate director for Student Wellness & Health Promotion at Georgia Southern. Luke is an academic adviser at East Georgia State in Statesboro.
“The Climb is another outlet for me to do work around a topic I am passionate about, mental health,” said Michele Martin. “But more specifically, postpartum mental health. I have enjoyed meeting others, sharing stories of struggles and recovery, and creating a space to support others at a critical and vulnerable stage of life. I have heard others talk about how the event helped them to know they aren’t alone and understand how prevalent postpartum depression and anxiety is.”
Martin said the Climb brings light to an often not-talked about subject.
“I hope the event can serve as a space to eliminate stigma, build community of like experiences, offer support and resources so desperately needed in our area, and awareness of the issue.” Martin said.
Pointing out that as many as one in seven women experience postpartum mental health issues, Martin said that statistic is only representative of those individuals that seek help.
“Many physicians believe the reality is double,” she said. Martin hopes both women and men realize the commonality of the issue and encourages them not to brush off how they are feeling and struggling.
From her research and experiences, Martin offers advice that can benefit a family with a new child.
“Friends and family can help a new mom and family by checking in often via text, phone calls and e-mail. Help new mom get outdoors for fresh air, even if only for a few minutes. Encourage mom to shower, brush teeth and get dressed for the day before noon every day,” she said.
She encourages new mothers to take action as well.
“Mom, create a list of one to three goals to accomplish for each day. These goals can be small, like walk to the mailbox, call a friend and take out the trash. And accept help. Make a list of tasks that can be done in order to communicate easily when help is offered,” she advises
Martin emphasizes emphatically, “Nap when baby naps, no matter what. Everything else can wait. Show yourself grace. Mom is learning just as much as baby is, especially a new mom.”
Martin encourages new moms to talk and be realistic.
“Life isn’t ‘normal’ like it was before, so accept that fact,” she said.
Martin said friends and family can offer to sit with or hold the baby for mom to rest and sleep or organize a meal train or bring a meal or offer to pick up some necessities during a grocery run.
Kristina Brewton said that she first got involved in the Climb Out of the Darkness event when Harris reached out to her last year after Harris noted Brewton’s interest in mental health awareness through networking.
“Because I am a new mom and have personally experienced the struggles of postpartum anxiety and depression, I was more than happy to jump on board and assist,” said Brewton.
Brewton and husband Darren are the parents of 3-year-old twins. Kristina is a licensed professional counselor at DPS Health and Wellness, and Darren is employed by the Georgia Department of Community Supervision. Brewton said her involvement with the event has enabled her to connect with some wonderful women and work together towards the climb to get the word out to the community.
“Sharing information about the climb has prompted individuals that I know personally to open up about their own experiences.” Brewton said.
Brewton hopes the Climb event will help women and men become more comfortable with having these conversations.
“When we hear perinatal depression and anxiety, most people solely think of women,” said Brewton. “Men are also experiencing changes and an array of emotions during the pregnancy and postpartum. Furthermore, this isn’t a gender, socio economic, or race thing. Depression and anxiety knows no boundaries and I want people to know they aren’t in alone.
“Support is vital,” Brewton continued. “Support looks different to different people. Know what support looks like for your loved ones and be there to listen and assist, not to control and judge. If you’re dealing with someone who has a hard time accepting or asking for help; offer anyway. They may say yes or they may say no, but happy to know someone cared enough to ask.
“Be present, but not overbearing. Lastly, do not forget about the fathers and the other children that may be present in the home. It is an adjustment for the family as a whole. Ask dads and the other children how they are doing and offer help to them also.”
Harris emphasized that experiences like postpartum depression, anxiety, OCD and others are not a person’s fault.
“There are simply unique sets of experiences and influences that make some of us more likely to develop these complications than others,” said Harris. “Further, these experiences are treatable. As Postpartum Support International reminds us, ‘You are not alone. You are not to blame. With help, you will be well.’”
Climb leaders Harris, Martin and Brewton welcome anyone in the community to join in on the Climb, both actively and with donations. To find out more about the Climb, to join or to donate, visit the online site at https://climbout2020.causevox.com/team/statesboro or the Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/cotdstatesboro/.