Moms Talk About Their Postpartum Depression
Postnatal Depression affects 1 In 7 mothers and it’s time we spoke about it
The condition affects one in seven mothers, yet postnatal depression has remained a largely taboo subject in mainstream media – until now. Charlotte Philby investigates
There is a video of one of my birthday parties when I was small. In it, amidst the balloons and giddy toddlers one of my friend’s mothers sits crossed-legged on the floor, facing the wall, head down. As a teen, I remember pointing it out to my mum when watching it back and her replying, ‘She wasn’t well when the children were young’. That image embodied postnatal depression for me: a dark cloud of debilitating despair, obvious even to a self-involved teenager.
As the years passed, however, and I had my own children – now nearly seven, four and two – I’ve come to see postnatal depression (PND) in a new light; something that exists on a greyscale, fluctuating between a quiet burden and overwhelming despair.
According to a recent study, one in seven mothers suffer postnatal depression, with up to 20 per cent considering self-harm. The University of Pittsburgh, which screened 10,000 women four to six weeks after giving birth, also found that around one in five of those who screened positive for postnatal depression had bipolar disorder, too.
This condition is as indiscriminate as it is universal. A staggering one in five women will suffer some form of mental-health problem around pregnancy or in the year after giving birth, according to mental-health charity Mind. This ranges from perinatal obsessive compulsive disorder to post-traumatic stress disorder. The most common symptoms of postnatal depression include persistent feelings of sadness, a loss of interest in the wider world, and not bonding with your baby.
Unlike ‘baby blues’, which is defined as a period of feeling down in the first week or two of giving birth, postnatal depression is officially defined as an episode of depression within the first year of motherhood. For some, this can become acute. According to the Birth Trauma Association, some 20,000 women a year develop what’s known as birth-related post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the UK alone. This is most common if a woman has experienced the threat of death or serious injury during or immediately after birth. Symptoms include fear and anxiety, flashbacks and intrusive thoughts.
However, Dr Emma Svanberg, a clinical psychologist specialising in pregnancy and birth, says diagnostic labelling isn’t helpful. ‘Postnatal depression can manifest itself very differently. Some people may have experienced depression before in their life. For others, the depression is directly related to becoming a parent.’
Jessica Friedmann, author ofThings That Helped, a book she published after her experience with postnatal depression following the birth of her son, now five, says, ‘It really cuts across all demographics. Cross-cultural studies tend to report similar results in all cultures, even those that don’t see depression as a medical issue. There is something innate to the process of early motherhood that triggers PND.
Video: POSTNATAL DEPRESSION? / Motherhood | Sonia Nicolson
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