What is Postpartum Depression?
Pregnancy and childbirth can pose serious challenges, especially for first-time moms.
The physical and hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy; the vast responsibilities that accompany motherhood; the intense anxiety associated with caring for another human being; all these factors can easily lead to depression.
Postpartum depression (PPD) is a relatively common mental disorder in mothers, as well as their partners. The onset of postpartum depression typically occurs during the first six weeks after childbirth.
Postpartum depression is characterized by persistent sadness, lack of joy and satisfaction, and the apparent inability to take on the role of parent.
Some experts believe that postpartum depression isn’t a mental disorder per se, but the result of financial, social, and emotional insecurity that parents experience after childbirth.
This means that by helping the mother overcome these anxieties – through solid emotional and even material support from friends and family – postpartum depression should be treatable and, relative to other mental health issues, easy to treat.
However, in the absence of social support and professional help, postpartum depression can lead to a chronic form of depression.
Signs of Postpartum Depression
Postpartum depression presents in a similar way to other forms of depressive disorder:
- Physical and mental exhaustion
- Lack of joy and satisfaction
- Feelings of guilt and shame
- Anger and irritability
- Low sex drive
- Lack of appetite (or increased appetite)
- Sudden mood swings (not to be confused with bipolar disorder)
- Difficulties in emotional attachment to the child
- Intrusive thoughts
- Fear of hurting or neglecting the child
- Inexplicable crying
- Suicidal ideation
How is Postpartum Depression Treated?
When it comes to postpartum depression, prompt treatment is crucial for both mother and baby. The sooner parents with PPD receive treatment, the faster the recovery.
That way, the chances of recurrent episodes of depression drop significantly, resulting in a much safer and nurturing environment for the baby.
For parents who struggle with postpartum depression, therapy has both an educational and supportive role.
On the one hand, a licensed therapist or counselor can help parents understand the challenges of parenthood and how to overcome them.
On the other hand, therapy represents a safe space where parents can talk about the difficulties that they experience without feeling criticized or judged for not being ‘the perfect parents.’
For postpartum depression, medication is typically the last resort, given the hormonal and neurochemical changes that can be brought about.
However, if the mother is struggling with severe depressive symptoms, then medication might be the only way to help her cope with the challenges of parenthood.
Social and familial support
While medication and therapy help parents manage the unpleasant symptoms associated with postpartum depression, social and familial support create an environment where parents and their baby feel safe.
This feeling of security gives parents the courage to tackle the challenges of raising a child and the guidance they need whenever they feel overwhelmed by parenthood.
WHEN TO SEE A MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL
Mental health issues are real, common, and treatable. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 20% of those are considered serious. 17% of 6-17 year olds experience a mental health disorder. So the first thing to remember is this: You are not alone.
If you feel that you are suffering from a mental illness, and particularly if those issues are preventing you from living life to the full or feeling yourself, you may want to consider professional help which can make an enormous difference.
And to be clear, you don't need to be going through a crisis in order to justify getting help. In fact, it can be advantageous from a treatment perspective to identify and deal with issues early and before they have a major impact on your life. Either way you should feel encouraged and able to seek help however you are feeling.
Mental health professionals such as licensed therapist can help in a range of ways including:
- Help you identify where, when, and how issues arise
- Develop coping strategies for specific symptoms and issues
- Encourage resilience and self-management
- Identify and change negative behaviors
- Identify and encourage positive behaviors
- Heal pain from past trauma
- Figure out goals and waypoints
- Build self-confidence
Treatment for mental health issues, and psychotherapy (sometimes known as 'talk therapy') in particular, frequently helps people to feel better, manage, and even get rid of their symptoms. For example, did you know that over 80% of people treated for depression materially improve? Or that treatment for panic disorder has a 90% success rate?
Other treatment options include medication which, in some cases, can be highly effective when administered in combination with psychotherapy.
So what is psychotherapy? It involves talking about your problems and concerns with a mental health professional. It can take lots of forms, including individual, group, couples and family sessions. Often, people see their therapists once a week for 50 minutes to start with and then reducing frequency as time goes on and issues subside. Treatment can be as short as a few weeks or as long as a few years depending on your particular situation and response.
Never think that getting help is a sign of weakness. It isn't. In fact, it can be a sign of strength and maturity to take the steps necessary to becoming you again and getting your life back on track.
WHEN TO GET EMERGENCY HELP
Are you in distress? If so, or if you think that you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
Also consider these options if you're having suicidal thoughts:
- Call your mental health specialist.
- Call a suicide hotline number — in the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
- Seek help from your primary doctor or other health care provider.
- Reach out to a close friend or loved one.
- Contact a minister, spiritual leader or someone else in your faith community.
If a loved one or friend is in danger of attempting suicide or has made an attempt:
- Make sure someone stays with that person.
- Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
- Or, if you can do so safely, take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room.