Do you know the difference and could you spot it?
Mental Health Week is a national event, which runs from Oct 5 to 12 and coincides with World Mental Health Day (10 October). The aim is to promote awareness about mental health and wellbeing, and equip people with the right information.
As part of Mental Health Week we have chosen to highlight the issue of Baby Blues and Postnatal Depression. Do you know the difference between Baby Blues and Postnatal Depression? Could you spot depression in yourself, a friend or partner? And if you did, would you know what to do about it?
Being pregnant and giving birth and all that it entails is a hugely emotional and life-changing experience. Hormones are raging, our body is changing and we experience sleeplessness, anxiety, acute tiredness, tearfulness and many other symptoms, which are all perfectly normal with everything that’s going on.
For one to two weeks after giving birth, many women also experience a short period of mood swings, tearfulness, anxiety and difficulty in sleeping. This can affect up to 80% of new mums and is known as the baby blues and is thought to be linked with the stresses associated with late pregnancy, labour and delivery, along with the rapid hormonal changes that accompany the birth.
Symptoms generally settle during the first week after birth, but for some women these symptoms can carry on for much longer and may be the much more serious condition of postnatal depression. It can also affect partners of new mums as well.
So what exactly is it?
Postnatal or Perinatal Anxiety and Depression (PND) is thought to affect approximately 20 per cent of women who give birth in Australia – around 50,000 women each year, and 10 per cent of their partners.
Postnatal depression can affect women in different ways, but the main symptoms of postnatal depression are:
- A persistent feeling of sadness and low mood
- Loss of interest in the world around you and no longer enjoying things that used to give pleasure
- Lack of energy and feeling tired all the time (fatigue)
Other symptoms can include:
- Disturbed sleep, such as having trouble sleeping during the night and then being sleepy during the day
- Difficulties with concentration and making decisions
- Low self-confidence
- Poor appetite or an increase in appetite (“comfort eating”)
- Feeling very agitated or, alternatively, very apathetic (you can’t be bothered)
- Feelings of guilt and self-blame
- Thinking about suicide and self-harming
Left untreated, the impact on the mother, her child and other family members can be profound. Perinatal Anxiety and Depression is a recognised medical condition, the result of biological, psychological and social factors.
With celebrities such as Jessica Rowe, Gwyneth Paltrow, Courtney Cox, Brooke Shields, Elle Macpherson, Britney Spears and Marie Osmond bringing the tragic illness into the public arena on a worldwide scale, the Gidget Foundation is one of the key non-government funded organisations that work tirelessly in Australia to raise awareness of and funding for research and treatment for PND.
Postnatal depression often goes unnoticed and many women are unaware they have it, even though they don’t feel quite right, because the symptoms of are wide-ranging.
Spotting the difference between Baby Blues and PND
Mood changes, irritability and episodes of tearfulness are common after giving birth. These symptoms are often known as the “baby blues” and they usually clear up within a few weeks. However, if symptoms are more persistent, it could be postnatal depression.
Women who continue to feel “low” after a couple of weeks after giving birth, should go to see their GP to talk through how they’re feeling. The GP will ask the following two questions if they suspect postnatal depression:
- During the past month, have you often been bothered by feeling down, depressed or hopeless?
- During the past month, have you often taken little or no pleasure in doing things that would normally make you happy?
If the answer is yes to either question, then postnatal depression is possible. If the answer is yes to both questions, it’s very likely and the GP may ask one further question: “Is this something you feel you need or want help with?” and there is absolutely no shame in saying Yes.
Some women don’t recognise they have postnatal depression, or they choose to ignore their symptoms, because they’re afraid of being seen as a bad mother.
Of course their friends and family are always supportive and would always want to help, but many women with postnatal depression feel they can’t ask for help. It becomes a very secret illness, not unlike a chronic eating disorder. And it can build up very quickly to dangerous levels, which can sadly sometimes lead to tragic consequences if left undiagnosed and untreated.
So it’s hugely important that friends and family also know the danger signs and can act if required.
Danger signs to look out for
If someone you care about starts to show these signs try to get help for them through your local health professional. Danger signs to look out for include:
- Talk of harming herself or the baby
- Bizarre thoughts or speech patterns
- Risk-taking behaviour
- Behaviour that seems odd or is out of character
- Severe change in mood
- Withdrawal from all social contact
- Extreme despair
- Obsession with morbid ideas
- Statements like: ‘They’d be better off without me’.
Treating postnatal depression
Postnatal depression can be lonely, distressing and frightening, but there are many treatments available. As long as it’s recognised and treated, postnatal depression is a temporary condition you can recover from.
It’s very important to seek treatment if you think you or your partner has postnatal depression. The condition is unlikely to get better by itself quickly and it could impact on the care of the baby.
Treatment for postnatal depression includes:
- Self-help advice
- Talking therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (cbt)
- Antidepressant medication
Read more about treating postnatal depression.
Why do I have postnatal depression?
The cause of postnatal depression isn’t clear, but it’s thought to be the result of several things rather than a single cause. These may include:
- The physical and emotional stress of looking after a newborn baby, particularly a lack of sleep
- Hormonal changes that occur shortly after pregnancy; some women may be particularly sensitive to these changes
- Individual social circumstances, such as money worries, poor social support or relationship problems
The following will put you at greater risk of developing postnatal depression:
- A previous history of depression or other mood disorders
- A previous history of postnatal depression
- If you experience depression or anxiety during pregnancy
Read more about the causes of postnatal depression.
Helping to prevent postnatal depression
You should tell your GP if you’ve had postnatal depression in the past and you’re pregnant, or if you’re considering having another baby. A previous history of postnatal depression increases your risk of developing it again.
If you keep your GP informed, they’ll be aware that postnatal depression could develop after your baby is born. This will prevent a delay in diagnosis and treatment can begin earlier. In the early stages, postnatal depression can be easy to miss.
The following self-help measures can also be useful in helping to prevent postnatal depression:
- Get as much rest and relaxation as possible
- Take regular gentle exercise
- Don’t go for long periods without food, as low blood sugar levels can make you feel much worse
- Don’t drink alcohol because it can make you feel worse
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet
Read more about preventing postnatal depression and the self-help measures you can take. But the most important thing is to seek help. Talk to a partner, friend, family member or professional.
Click here for an amazing video on Dealing with Post Natal Depression from PANDA: “Behind the Mask: The Hidden Struggle of Parenthood”
The Gidget Foundation raises funds and awareness for perinatal. Founded by the friends and family of vivacious Sydney woman, “Gidget”, following her suicide as a result of “post natal depression”, the Gidget Foundation exists to promote awareness of Perinatal Anxiety and Depression (PND) amongst women and their families, their health providers and the wider community to ensure that women in need can receive timely, appropriate and supportive care. They have a dedicated outpatient clinic – Gidget House – in Sydney.
PANDA (Post and Antenatal Depression Association)
Written and published for CareforKids.com.au http://www.careforkids.com.au/newsletter/2014/october/8/pnd.html