UT San Diego front page: TheBlueDotProject
August 29th, 2016 by TheBlueDotProject
Mom’s blue dot now a potent symbol
Escondido mother raises awareness about postpartum depression and anxiety
Three years ago, Peggy O’Neil Nosti wanted to send a subtle message of support to other moms like herself who have secretly struggled with postpartum anxiety or depression.
The art teacher and Escondido mother of three came up with the concept for a round sky-blue magnet or sticker that could be affixed to the back of a car. On its face would be the address for a website,TheBlueDotProject.org, where other moms could find information and support for their problems.
Her dream, she said in July 2013, was that the blue dot might one day become as universally recognized for maternal mental health awareness as the pink ribbon is for breast cancer.
While it hasn’t yet achieved that status, Nosti’s artwork may be on its way.
Today, her blue dot is the official international symbol for maternal mental health, and it’s being used this month in a national social media campaign encouraging friends, family and spouses to reach out to moms who might be hiding secret pain. Gretchen Mallios, president of San Diego’s Postpartum Health Alliance, said Nosti’s blue dot has become a major force in creating public awareness.
“What she did is huge,” said Mallios, whose Alliance provided nonprofit support when Nosti launched The Blue Dot Project in 2013. “She put into action what every person who intersects with this issue says: That we need a stigma-busting symbol that’s simple, elegant and approachable with a website so beautiful that mothers feel safe venturing into the conversation, which is the first step in getting better.”
Nosti, 44, said she’s happy that she’s been able to contribute to public discussion on the issue. When she battled postpartum anxiety six years ago, she felt confused, isolated and ashamed and didn’t want anyone else to endure that kind of secret suffering.
Nosti and her husband, dentist John Nosti, are the parents of three children: Ella, 10, Charlie, 8, and Theo, 6. Because she didn’t have any problems with the births of her first two children, Nosti said she didn’t understand why her mental health went into a downward spiral when Theo was born. She couldn’t sleep, she didn’t eat, she couldn’t go outside, she had a hard time caring for Theo and she struggled to cope with everyday tasks.
“I couldn’t get my shoulders away from my ears because I was so incredibly tense all the time,” she said.
Two months after the onset of symptoms, she sought help at UC San Diego’s Maternal Mental Health Clinic, where she was diagnosed with postpartum anxiety. With medication and therapy, she was back to her old self within a few months and she vowed to help other moms some day by bringing the little-discussed malady out of the shadows.
According to the national studies, 1 in 7 women will get postpartum depression or a related illness. In low socioeconomic areas, the proportion increases to 1 in 4. The problem doesn’t just affect the mothers. It can affect marriages, family dynamics and the child’s health.
A 2009 study by the Harvard Center on the Developing Child found that children who experience maternal depression early in life can develop weak brain architecture that affects their learning, behavior and mental health.
Mallios, a licensed clinical social worker, said many mothers with postpartum symptoms don’t tell their family or doctor about their feelings because they’re embarrassed that their maternal experience isn’t as wonderful as they believed it should be.
She has also seen more cases lately of postpartum anxiety because women today are juggling so many responsibilities and they’re bombarded so often with alarmist parenting news stories on social media.
“There’s a lot of self blame out there,” Mallios said. “There’s still that barrier about getting screened because women don’t realize it’s not their fault and they have something that can be treated.”
Nosti first got the idea for her project after Junior Seau’s suicide at his Oceanside home in May 2012. Family and friends told the media they had no idea the former San Diego Chargers linebacker was in crisis.
Nosti said she wondered how many mothers with perinatal disorders felt desperate and alone and might find comfort in talking to others who have been there. A discreet bumper sticker in a school parking lot could become a spark for conversation and healing.
When it came to designing her symbol, Nosti said the blue dot was simple, easy to replicate, a soothing color, visible from a great distance and still vague enough that it didn’t scream “mentally ill mom on board.”
A year later, with the Postpartum Health Alliance’s support and some grant money from the Mason Hirst Foundation, The Blue Dot Project was launched.
Through the initial sale of more than 400 blue dots, Nosti and her all-volunteer team provided a couple of grants for groups on the East Coast that helped low-income moms with depression and anxiety. Then two years ago, the national networking group Postpartum Support International hosted a design contest to create a universal symbol for maternal mental health. After a close vote, Nosti’s blue dot came out on top.
To date, Nosti has sold nearly 1,000 blue dots, but she said the goal of her project isn’t to raise money but awareness. She’s delighted to see blue dots popping up everywhere, including as the logo for county public health programs in the Northern California counties of Yolo, Clara, Humboldt and Butte.
The blue dot was also adopted by the National Coalition for Maternal Mental Health for its annual May campaign, which kicked off last week. The blue dot, with the phrase #askher on its face, was distributed through social media outlets encouraging the public to create a conversation by asking mothers of newborns how they’re sleeping, eating and feeling.
Because she has three children at L.R. Green Elementary, where she runs the student art program, Nosti said she’s had to step back from advocacy work lately. But next month, she and Mallios will be speaking about The Blue Dot Project at Postpartum Support International’s convention in San Diego.
Although her dreams for the blue dot have been realized, Nosti said her work is not done. Her next goal is to expand awareness about the symbol beyond the moms and health providers who are at the forefront of the issue.
“In my opinion, we need to start getting it recognized by healthy women and women who are mothers to be,” she said. “The more people we can reach, the more mothers we can help.”