The different faces of postnatal depression
This was not the topic that I had planned to write about this month. However, with May 1st being Maternal Mental Health Awareness Day worldwide, I felt it needed to be talked about. How does someone know if they are experiencing postnatal depression (PND)?
I have heard time and time again from mothers that they just weren't aware that they were suffering from PND until a long time after the fact. Sometimes years later. It was in hindsight that they had that moment of realisation. When all the pieces of the puzzle suddenly came together to form the whole picture.
Why is it that the signs can go unnoticed?
There seems to be a number of reasons. PND may not look like the picture that is painted in mind of the mother who can't get out of bed to tend to her baby, or the mother who cries every day, multiple times a day. It may be much more subtle, such as feeling "brain fog" or difficulty concentrating, which let's face it is a very common symptom of sleep deprivation as a new parent. It may look like the mother who is so consumed with her new role that she doesn't want to leave her baby, even to eat or sleep. Or the mother who has trouble shutting off her mind to go to sleep. Or just feeling irritable and depleted.
Often new parents are told by well meaning friends, relatives and even strangers that these signs are all normal and that it will get better. So we hold on to this in the hope that our feelings will change, not realising that there is anything wrong. For example, "I'll feel better when she starts sleeping better" . This kind of bargaining could go on forever with no resolution.
Sometimes new parents can become so consumed with caring for baby that they forget to look after themselves, meaning symptoms can go unnoticed. Partners may rush off to work in a sleep deprived haze, assuming that the mother has got everything under control, not stopping to really notice.
Also a lot of parents don't want to admit to experiencing any unwanted, scary, self-defeating thoughts or that they are not coping, as it is a very confronting, vulnerable position to be in. Especially when these kinds of issues are still so misunderstood and not talked about. In fact, how often do we hear comments such as "enjoy this stage of life, they grow up too fast" and "those were the best years of my life" from those who have been there and done it? For someone who is struggling to find joy, these kinds of comments can be very invalidating. So they may put on a happy face to fool both themselves and those around them, suppressing their true feelings and thoughts.
What can we do?
The more we talk about PND, the more we can reduce the stigma and the misconceptions. We can increase the chance of people noticing the subtle signs in themselves, or even in their partner, friend or loved one, that may look very different from the more extreme pictures that we hold in mind. By noticing and raising the topic, help may be received at the right time.
If you or someone you know seems to have lost their joy, are feeling distressed or are not coping, and these feelings don’t improve within a couple of weeks, then that is probably a good sign to seek help.
Speaking to a professional can help shift these feelings. Helplines for immediate support include:
PANDA - 1300 726 306
beyondblue - 1300 224 636
https://www.mumspace.com.au/ is a good online resource providing support for the emotional health of new and expecting mothers, with an online program MumMoodBooster and an app MindMum which include ways to assess and monitor mood.
To find a psychologist who specialises in perinatal mental health, check the Centre for Perinatal Psychology for listings according to area https://www.centreforperinatalpsychology.com.au/
Until next time!