Postnatal Depression: Treatment, Signs and Symptoms

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Postnatal depression (PND) is a relatively common form of depression experienced by many parents in the period after the birth of a child. Often, the symptoms of postnatal depression begin to present in the first few months following childbirth; however, this is not an absolute rule, and PND may not occur until several months into the child’s life or closer to their first birthday. 

PND is distinct from ‘baby blues’, the symptoms for which include frequent crying, irritability, anxiety or a general feeling of ‘flatness’. With the ‘baby blues’, symptoms typically begin around the third day after the birth and recede around the tenth. In contrast, the symptoms of PND can persist over a much longer timeframe. It’s not usually necessary to seek treatment for ‘baby blues’ as it is unlikely to have a significant, long-lasting mental health impact. The remainder of this post will focus primarily on PND. 

Though many people believe that PND is caused solely by hormonal changes, or that it only affects women, these ideas are untrue. PND can be caused by a variety of factors such as a history of mental health challenges, an unplanned pregnancy or issues with relationships or finance. Research shows that approximately 10% of men experience postnatal depression following the birth of a child.

In this post, we’ll examine more closely what PND is, and give an overview of its common signs and symptoms. We will then discuss the various methods of treatment. 

What is Postnatal Depression? 

Postnatal depression, also known as postpartum depression, is a type of depression experienced by parents following childbirth. According to the NHS, it affects approximately 10 in every 100 fathers, and approximately 10-15 in every 100 mothers. PND can also affect non-biologically related partners. 

PND can be a turbulent and emotionally challenging experience, with the potential to persist over a sustained period and trigger long-term mental health problems. It is characterised by symptoms which, at times, appear similar to other forms of depression.

PND might occur at any time during the first year of the child’s life. Though many people feel somewhat anxious, depressed or ‘washed out’ in the days following childbirth, if those symptoms persist over a longer period, it may develop into postnatal / postpartum depression. Since PND can develop gradually over weeks or months, it can be challenging to identify without attributing it to other potential mental health issues. Often, the symptoms of PND manifest similarly to other forms of depression. 

Symptoms of Postnatal Depression

Although it’s common for people to experience a period of feeling depressed after the birth of a baby due to a dramatic drop in certain hormone levels, around 1 in 10 UK women will experience PND

Typical postpartum depression symptoms include:

  • A low mood or feelings of sadness
  • Feeling aggravated, irritable, or ‘snapping’ at loved ones
  • Feelings of worthlessness, shame or guilt
  • Loss of energy and interest, even in activities which were previously enjoyed
  • Difficulty getting restful sleep, irregardless of the baby’s sleep pattern
  • Problems with concentration or decision-making
  • Overeating or a loss of appetite
  • Negative or unhelpful thoughts (such as, ‘I am a hopeless parent’ or, ‘the baby does not love me’) 
  • Worry that something bad is going to happen to the baby
  • Difficulties bonding with the baby, or no enjoyment in being around them

Like other types of severe depression and mental illness, PND can sometimes be difficult to spot in others. Many parents feel ashamed, judged or embarrassed about being unhappy, or as though they are struggling to cope with the baby, and feelings such as these can lead some to conceal their emotions. 

If you are concerned about about PND in a partner or loved one, some less obvious signs to be aware of include:

  • Withdrawal from social groups
  • Consistent impunctuality, or no awareness of time passing
  • Making frequent negative comments and speaking in a hopeless tone 
  • Lack of regard for personal hygiene/ self-care
  • An preoccupation that something is wrong with the baby
  • A lack of connection with the baby
  • No desire to engage or play with the baby
  • Appearing to only take care of the baby out of responsibility

If you think you, or someone you know, is struggling with a form of depression, PND or otherwise, it’s important to seek the necessary support. You can contact an experienced medical secretary at Psymplicity Healthcare to help assess and treat depression. 

Postnatal Depression Treatment

PND can occur to varying degrees of severity or for different lengths of time, and the particular nature of an individual case will affect which avenue of treatment is most suitable. In general, it’s helpful to seek guidance from a health visitor following the birth, or consult with your GP to determine the best course of treatment for PND. You may be referred for cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or other psychological treatment depending on your symptoms. Support from a medical professional can also help to determine whether you are struggling with other mental health problems such as postpartum psychosis or bipolar disorder. 

The NHS recommends the following 3 ways of dealing with PND: 

Self-care & help at home

Taking care of a young child comes with a considerable amount of stress and responsibility, and the situation may be complicated by PND. It can help to open up to the people around you, whether that’s a partner, friend, or even one or both of your own parents. Family and friends are usually able and willing to share the load of responsibility. 

In turn, this can help create space in your schedule for yourself. Take the time to re-engage hobbies, pastimes and interests that stimulate you, or help you to relax and unwind. Reconnecting with such activities allows us to get closer again to our sense of self and can naturally boost our mood and energy levels, therefore benefitting our mental and physical health. 

Try to cultivate the mentality that a ‘super-parent’ does not exist. These ideas are unrealistic and act as a burden on your mental health. Accept help when it’s offered, and don’t be afraid to ask for assistance if you feel yourself struggling. 

Regular, good-quality sleep is essential for all humans, and a lack of it quickly leads to difficulties with basic tasks and functioning; this can be especially true when you’re dealing with the added responsibility of a baby. Try to rest when you can, sleep when you get the chance, and don’t overextend yourself, as this can lead to burnout. It’s also important for your energy levels to eat healthy meals regularly and, where possible, to take light exercise, as this can help boost your mood. 

Medication

For people dealing with a more extreme case of PND, or those with a history of mental health challenges, a course of antidepressant medication may be recommended. By working to balance mood-affecting chemicals in the brain, prescribed medication can help lighten symptoms such as feelings of sadness, a short temper, or trouble sleeping. 

 It usually takes 1-2 weeks before antidepressant medication begins to have an effect, and up to 6 before the full benefit is truly felt. Often, for PND, the full course will last for approximately 6 months. As with any medically-prescribed course, it’s important to continue and be consistent with PND medication.

Professional psychological help

Sometimes, seeking help from experienced mental health specialists is the most proactive and suitable way of helping yourself deal with PND. One form of psychological support is a programme of guided self-help. This involves working alongside a therapist, or by yourself, through a book or course tailored to the specific issues you may be facing, which offers advice and suggestions on how to deal with them. Typically, a guided self-help course will last from 9-12 weeks. 

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), a type of therapy based on the idea that unrealistic cognition (thinking) leads to unhelpful or unwelcome behaviours, would attempt to break that cognitive cycle and help find more ‘helpful’ ways of viewing the situation. For instance, CBT may helps to challenge unhelpful beliefs and unrelenting standards of what it means to be a good parent, or encourage you to perceive parenthood as a challenging adventure that gives you the opportunity to learn and grow. CBT sessions may occur 1-to-1 or as part of a group, and usually last for up to 4 months. 

A different type of treatment known as Interpersonal Therapy, or IPT, involves talking to a therapist about the issues you may be facing. Through discussion, they will help you

H to recognise specific challenges in your personal situation which may be impacting your life as a parent. IPT courses often last for around 3-4 months. 

Postnatal Depression: Where to Find Help 

Parenthood is an exciting and joyful time in the lives of many adults; however, bringing a new life into the world and caring for the child to the best of your ability can present a significant strain for your own mental health. Hopefully now, you feel equipped with knowledge about PND, its signs and symptoms, how to identify it in yourself and others, and the various methods of treating it. Often, consulting with your GP and reaching out to loved ones is a great place to start. 

If you think you or a partner may benefit from psychological help in dealing with PND, get in touch with Psymplicity Healthcare today. You’ll have access to a medically-trained and professionally-experienced mental health practitioner, drawing on our holistic, warm and caring approach to ensure you embrace parenthood feeling confident and happy about the journey to come. 

Contact Psymplicity now and one of our knowledgeable team will be happy to answer any questions you may have. 

Mavish Sikander

Mavish Sikander

Mavish is a BABCP Accredited CBT and EMDR Therapist and CBT Clinical Lead at Psymplicity.

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