Brooke Shields didn’t plan on becoming a patient advocate for postpartum depression.

Around two decades ago, the Golden Globe-nominated actress publicly discussed her bout with postpartum depression, which brought renewed attention to an oft-experienced but under-discussed aspect of women’s health.

A subsequent public back-and-forth with Academy Award-nominated actor Tom Cruise about the use of antidepressants and the stigma around postpartum depression further elevated recognition of the condition and has remained a well-known chapter of Shields’ lengthy career.

Her candid, vulnerable approach has extended beyond postpartum depression to other health considerations like toxic beauty standards, anti-aging sentiments and patient self-advocacy.  

Shields addressed all of these topics in a fireside chat with PHM President Andrea Palmer to kick off the 2024 PHM HealthFront Wednesday morning.

Destigmatizing postpartum depression

In front of an audience of hundreds of healthcare marketers, Shields spent considerable time unpacking shame and how it can hamper patients across various disease states and conditions.

Shields said that when she first dealt with the physical and mental health symptoms that would later be diagnosed as postpartum depression, she said she experienced a “great deal of shame.” 

She said her desire to become a mother, including undergoing multiple rounds of IVF, contributed to the shame she felt. It was only after she started talking with her friends and family about how she was feeling and sought out professional care that she saw improvement. 

Since then, she has used her platform to influence policy around postpartum challenges and encourage more prescreening to identify who could be at high risk for developing the condition. However, more than anything, she told the crowd that she hopes her openness makes other women experiencing postpartum feel less lonely and more likely to receive care.

“I’m not an expert, I’m just a woman who’s gone through [postpartum depression] and wanted to help other women get the help,” she said. 

Tackling toxic beauty, anti-aging

Shields’ push for more active, self-confident patients also applies to what she considers the toxic beauty standards placed on women of all ages.

She commended Dove for its campaigns targeting the use of anti-aging skincare products by young girls, noting that women have long been “plagued by beauty,” which has led to toxic comparisons and esteem issues. 

Shields also called for a greater celebration of diversity in beauty and continuation of changing conversations about how these products are marketed to consumers.

Acknowledging her early days as a teen model, Shields admitted to being part of the perpetuation of what conventional beauty looks like but is now committed to helping solve the problem.

Part of that involves shifting the focus from external beauty to internal wellness in women’s health and beauty narratives — especially for those who are middle-aged and older.

She urged medical marketers to reconsider how they advertise to women over the age of 40, who she observed as “slowly being counted out.” 

Menopause is being talked about more and that’s an improvement from years past, but she noted that’s only one piece of the puzzle to appropriately and effectively marketing women’s health.

Her parting message to the collected advertisers was one based on empathy and respect when it comes to communicating with patients. 

Though a public figure, Shields said her experiences as a patient reiterated how isolating the care journey can be. This provides medical marketers with a unique opportunity to identify issues facing patients, connect with them on a personal basis and deliver meaningful solutions that improve outcomes.