What is post-natal depression?
While a new baby is almost universally regarded as an occasion for joy, one in seven mothers suffers a feeling of sadness and hopelessness. They may feel anxious or guilty, have difficulty sleeping and lose interest in food. They may feel incompetent and emotionally numb.
The onset of post-natal depression (PND) can occur days, weeks or months after the baby is born. It is quite different from the “baby blues”, or antenatal depression, which around 10 per cent of new mothers experience due to hormonal changes up to a few days after the birth of a child.
As many as one in 16 young Australian mothers are believed to suffer from PND. They might feel completely unprepared for the demands of motherhood, and overwhelmed by the expectations of society. They may experience a loss of their sense of identity and feel they have been set adrift in a world that is unconnected with their previous lives and careers.
Post-natal depression causes a young mother to withdraw from most people around her, including her child and her partner. This can put the woman’s relationship with her partner under stress, increasing the emotional tension in an already difficult situation.
There is no clear cause of PND, but factors that may contribute include hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy and childbirth, and emotional changes that occur when adjusting to a new role as a mother. The latest research suggests that women who have unintended pregnancies are four times more likely to have post-natal depression.
What are some of the signs?
- Loss of appetite
- Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, or exhaustion
- Emotional numbness and difficulty concentrating
- Panic attacks
- Tearfulness and irritability
- Low sex drive, low energy
- Difficulty sleeping or change in sleep patterns
- Feelings of inadequacy, hopelessness, or lack of confidence as a mother
- Feeling disconnected from your baby
- Thoughts of self-harm or suicide
Strategies to help manage PND
- Seek support from friends and family
- Avoid social isolation
- Try to plan short breaks from your baby
- Attempt to look after yourself first
- Counselling; including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which is a way of managing negative thought patterns
- Support groups
Post-natal depression and Men
It is also possible for fathers to experience post-natal depression. It is often for similar reasons to women; change in role, anxiety regarding being a parent, worry about their relationship or sex life following the baby being born, and feeling a lack of bond with the baby.
When to seek professional assistance
Post-natal depression won’t disappear without treatment. If any of these signs and symptoms sound familiar, it’s best to seek help as soon as possible. Psychological treatment is regarded as the best approach for mild to moderate cases of PND.
There is still some stigma surrounding post-natal depression, but it is very important to seek help. Speaking about post-natal depression helps to reduce stigma and encourage open conversations about the illness. Psychology Melbourne has a number of sensitive, caring, and experienced psychologists who can help mothers experiencing PND.