Sandy (25) had always wanted a baby. She had an easy pregnancy and awaited the birth of her first child with excitement. Soon after her daughter was born Sandy began to feel “down”. In the months that followed, she became increasingly depressed – “I just wanted to sleep for a very long time. I believed that my daughter would be better off without me.” After her suicide attempt 5 months later, she started seeing a psychologist and received the help that she needed – “I didn’t feel so guilty or ashamed once I understood what was wrong with me and that I wasn’t alone”.
For most women, the birth of a baby is an eagerly anticipated and joyous occasion, but for nearly 20% of women it is the beginning of a nightmare that can threaten their mental health.
Post-natal depression is the most common complication of childbirth and affects 3 in 10 women. It is also a most grossly neglected condition and usually goes undiagnosed unless extremely severe. Most people believe that it is merely an “adjustment’ problem and do not consider post-natal depression a specific disorder. Society has little patience or understanding regarding post-natal depression and the most common advice is “Pull yourself together”. Post-natal depression is often viewed as selfishness on the part of the mother – an attitude that is hardly helpful when you are feeling guilty and alone.
Post-natal depression can affect any woman of any age, income group or race who has given birth recently. Even if you have had happy births in the past, it can strike with a new baby. Causes may include hormonal changes, changes in expectations or even routine or family changes.
“Baby Blues” after childbirth is common and up to 85% of women display symptoms that include feelings of sadness, fears of not being able to cope and irritability. These generally ease off in the second or third week. The best help is from supportive family members and friends – talk to them and discuss your feelings. It is normal to feel a bit low and overwhelmed.
Post-natal depression is a more serious form of “Baby Blues” and occurs primarily within the first 10 weeks after childbirth, but can develop layer. Despite its name, post-natal depression can also start during pregnancy. Symptoms include: apathy, anxiety, suicidal ideas, feelings of worthlessness, anger, guilt about not loving the baby enough which may lead to feelings of hostility and rejection of the baby. It is important to talk to family and friends and also contact a counsellor or your doctor.
Post-natal depression can last for a few days up to a year or more in some cases. It is advisable to seek help as soon as possible – early detection and treatment is the key to reducing long-term negative affects of post-natal depression. Post-natal depression is very treatable. Research has shown that levels of depression and anxiety are reduced by talking. Talking helps to put your feelings into perspective and instils a sense of worth and control. Listen to your “inner voice”. If you are feeling unhappy or feel that something is wrong – speak to someone about it. Acting on your feelings will reduce your sense of powerlessness. You are not alone and there are people who understand and can help.