Image credit: Mommy Connections
Depression is one of the most common mental disorders which can be classified into several types, such as major depressive disorder and bipolar disorders which are more widely known. However, one type of depression which has recently become a hot topic is postpartum depression. Recently, we see that there are increasingly more celebrities opening up about being diagnosed with postpartum depression. There are also news regarding women with postpartum depression taking their own lives due to sufferings of postpartum depression. Some of these women may look perfectly fine from the outside but they may be struggling with postpartum depression.
What is postpartum depression? Postpartum depression (PPD), also known as postnatal depression, is attributed to physical, behavioral and emotional changes that many new mothers experience after childbirth. It is a common mental illness which happens to about 10 to 15 women in every 100 women and it can happen any time in the first year after childbirth but unfortunately, many women are not aware of this. According to Malaysian National Health and Morbidity Survey 2016, among 850 respondents who underwent screenings, 12.7% of them were tested positive for PPD and the highest was among the 30-34 age group (16.8%), followed by the 25-29 age group (11.8%) and 15-19 age group (10.5%).
Many people have the perception that PPD is baby blues which most mothers experience days after giving birth and that they will gradually recover without seeking for treatment. However, the fact is that baby blues usually only last for a few weeks but PPD can last for months or even years and PPD can be so severe that it affects the daily functioning of new mothers. Hence, PPD is perhaps one of the most under-diagnosed mental illnesses due to social stigma and the lack of awareness among new mothers. It is crucial for mothers with PPD to seek treatment as the prolonged symptoms may not only affect the mothers, they may also bring negative consequences to people around them such as their spouses and children.
The symptoms of PPD may vary for each woman, but some of the symptoms tend to be similar to the symptoms for women who experience baby blues, accompanied by some symptoms of major depressive disorder. For example:
- Persistent sadness or feeling depressed most of the days
- Significant loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities
- Frequent mood swings
- Difficulty sleeping
- Decreased energy or fatigue
- Changes in appetite
- Feeling of excessive guilt, worthlessness and self-blame (e.g. you are not good enough to be a mother for your baby)
- Difficulty concentrating or making decision
- Thoughts of death or suicide
It is important for women to be able to differentiate between baby blues and PPD and they should seek treatment if some of the symptoms listed above persist for a long period of time. Women who are diagnosed with PPD are usually treated by using counselling, medication or psychotherapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy. Aside from these treatments, there are also some ways which women with PPD can practise at home in order to relieve their symptoms. Firstly, a balanced diet and sufficient sleep are some of the common practices. Engaging in physical activities such as yoga may also help the patients to feel better as our body releases chemicals called endorphins during exercise that trigger positive feelings. Try talking and telling about how you feel to your close friends and family and also take some time to destress and relax when you feel that you have had too much. Some of these self-help practices are able to reduce the depressive symptoms among women with PPD.
Some of the common factors associated with postpartum depression include:
- Women with history of depression or any other mental disorders, before or during pregnancy
- Hormonal changes
- Lack of social support and care from loved ones
- Adverse life events
- Unplanned or unwanted pregnancy
- Having babies with illnesses
PPD may happen to any new mother, but a mother who is aware of the symptoms and risks of PPD is able to take preventive measures compared to a mother who does not understand about PPD. How can one reduce the risk of developing PPD?
- Educate yourself about PPD
- Eat and sleep well
- Engage in physical activities regularly
- Surround yourself with people whom you can count on physically and emotionally during and after pregnancy
- Take the opportunity to relax from time to time when you feel that you have overstressed yourself while taking care of your newborn
- Try not to make any life-changing decisions during or after pregnancy
- Make your life as simple and as stress-free as possible during and right after pregnancy
Mothers, especially the inexperienced ones usually need some time to adjust to having babies, especially for women who have to juggle their careers with taking care of their newborns. During this period of time, they may overstress themselves without realising that it may impact them negatively. Therefore, new mothers should take the initiatives to either consult health care providers or talk to close friends and family. However, due to the presence of societal expectations such as mothers are expected to be happy to have babies and they should spent all their time taking care of their newborns, new mothers may not be aware that it is actually a mental illness or if the new mother is afraid of being judged and criticised, she may not want to reveal to people around her about her problems. This may indirectly jeopardise the care of the newborn.
Therefore, it is important for people around new mothers to be knowledgeable about depression so that they can take people with depressive symptoms to seek medical advice or treatment from health care providers. Family members also play vital roles in reminding new mothers that they are not alone and having mental illness is nothing to be ashamed about. Do not hesitate to give them some encouragement, after all, who knows simple encouraging words may bring a significant impact to these women who may actually need it?