Since its initial surfacing in the 1980s, postnatal depression, more commonly referred to as postpartum depression, has become more widely known among expectant and new mothers along with the medical community. Today, the exact rate of postpartum depression is not known for certain, but an approximate 70-80% of women experience some degree of depression after giving birth. A recent study suggests that one in seven women may develop depression within one year of giving birth, and the occurrence rates may be higher for those who have had a stillbirth or a miscarriage.
Postnatal mental illness is a prevalent condition, but it is not always discussed openly and honestly among new parents, their doctors, or their friends and family. Some feel a certain level of shame for being less than joyful after creating human life, but the reality is there are several uncontrollable reasons why postnatal depression occurs. Expectant mothers, current mothers, as well as fathers and the medical community need to have a greater understanding of the conditions relating to postnatal mental health, as well as what can be done to offer the best, most timely support when it is needed.
Perinatal Mental Illness
There are several ways mental illness can creep into a parent’s world, often without being detected easily. Perinatal mental illness is the board term that may encompass different types of issues, with peri meaning around and natal meaning birth. Postnatal or postpartum mental health conditions are those that take place after giving birth, while antenatal or prenatal issues arise before a child is born. Mental illness surrounding birth may take place in the form of depression, increased anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), birth trauma, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). In very rare cases, women may develop postpartum psychosis, which is a severe and potentially deadly disorder occurring after birth.
The warning signs of pre- or postnatal depression are far-reaching and wide-ranging, but often include the following symptoms:
- Persistent feelings of sadness or a low mood
- An inability to enjoy the world or social events
- A diminished level of energy and ongoing exhaustion
- Trouble sleeping at night or tiredness during the day
- Difficulty bonding with the child
- Withdrawing from contact with others
- Issues making decisions or concentrating
- Thoughts of hurting the newborn
What is important to know about postnatal depression and its warning signs is the fact that mothers of any age may develop it, but so can fathers, as well as adoptive parents.
Misdiagnosis and Potential Issues
Raising a greater level of awareness around postnatal depression is an essential part of quality care for expectant and new parents. The unfortunate truth is that there remains a stigma around the “baby blues”. Many feel strongly that depression is a controllable disease and that parents experiencing the condition should simply work harder to be happy about the birth or adoption of a child. However, depression is not that easily controlled, nor does it have the same catalyst from parent to parent.
According to a medical negligence law firm in the UK, the stigma surrounding postnatal depression can lead to devastating results for both the parents and the child. Recent statistics show that an estimated 50% of mothers have postnatal depression but receive no diagnosis, despite experiencing symptoms for an extended period. Post-birth check-ups are more focused on the child than they are the well-being of the mother or father, and many parents feel shame when talking about depression symptoms. Because there is not an open and honest discussion about the prevalence of postnatal mental illness, parents do not receive the diagnosis or subsequent treatment they need.
In the most severe cases, hospitals are left ill-equipped to manage mental health conditions for new or expectant mothers and fathers, leaving them with little choice but to manage the depression or anxiety on their own. These issues put children at risk as well when a misdiagnosis or no diagnosis is given quickly.
Improving Support and Care
Creating a safe space for parents to talk about their symptoms of mental illness and encouraging the open discussion of these issues is necessary for changing the trajectory of postpartum depression among new parents. For those who believe they are experiencing the warning signs or friends and family members of new parents who see alarming symptoms, there is hope. Several support groups exist, including the Association for Post Natal Illness (APNI) and the Pandas Foundation.
With each of these support organisations, mothers and fathers alike can seek out a local support group of men and women who have experienced and are working through postnatal mental illness. There are also several outlets for educational resources surrounding pre- and postnatal mental health issues that offer suggestions for speaking with a GP about symptoms and possible treatments.
Staying diligent about potential symptoms is the key to getting the diagnosis and follow-up treatment necessary for mothers and fathers to lead healthy, productive lives for themselves and their children.
Have youi or a loved one suffered with postnatal depression?
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