Depression in the perinatal period
“As expected, I had the baby blues about 4 days after my son was born. It felt horrible but I sort of knew to expect it, so I wasn’t that concerned… but then it just didn’t go away. As each day rolled on and I kept feeling the same I started to worry that I would always feel this way… after 7 weeks of this my husband found me sobbing in the shower. We knew that I needed help.”
As we can see from this mother’s experience with post-natal depression, this condition can become overwhelming very quickly. The trajectory of depression can differ for each person (some develop symptoms quickly, others more slowly, some develop symptoms during pregnancy or once baby is born) but the effects can be serious, long-lasting and impactful for the whole family. This is especially the case if depression is left untreated- which may lead to very serious consequences like an inability to care for yourself or your baby and thoughts of self-harm or suicide. The statistics in Australia suggest that postnatal depression affects one in seven women after the birth of their baby (https://www.panda.org.au/).
One of the key features of postnatal depression is a loss of pleasure and enjoyment in life and lacking interest in things that you previously enjoyed doing. Other symptoms of postnatal depression include:
Feeling low in mood and in some cases having very little feeling (numbness)
Lacking energy to even get through the day
Feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness
Anger, irritability, feeling resentful, sensitive, tearful and/or highly emotional
Changes in sleep (staying awake when you should be sleeping or wanting to sleep all the time)
Weight loss and/or gain and changes in eating habits
Problems with concentration, thinking or decision-making
Feeling isolated and alone.
In some cases, these symptoms can lead to feelings of suicide or self-harm- especially when there are strong feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. In these times some women can feel as though their baby, or their family will be better off without them. If you are having thoughts like these it is important to seek help immediately – contact:
PANDA — 1300 726 306
Beyond Blue — 1300 22 4636
Pregnancy, Birth and Baby — 1800 882 436
Or make an appointment with a perinatal psychologist.
It is also important to remember that postnatal depression can affect dads too- although this is less commonly spoken about it, the symptoms listed above can be seen in new fathers also. In some cases, depression in fathers can have different symptoms too. You might see increased irritability and anger, loss of libido, risk taking behaviours and being overwhelmed or out of control. If you notice these signs or symptoms in your partner, it is important to seek help early.
Depression is more than just feeling sad or low for a little while. Many people report that depression feels like a permanent black cloud following them around. The symptoms need to be present for more than two weeks to be considered depression. Your GP or perinatal psychologist can assess the symptoms and administer specific tests to determine a diagnosis.
Depression at any time of life can be scary, isolating and debilitating. Psychological treatment for this condition is very effective and can have great impact especially when the depression is addressed early. To start the conversation, speak with your GP about seeking a Mental Health Care Plan.