Creating Awareness of and Support for Parents with Postnatal Depression
by Juan Vittori
Many soon-to-be and current parents are familiar with the baby blues – feelings of exhaustion and overall sadness shortly after a new child arrives. However, when the baby blues become a more pressing, long-term issue, postnatal depression, also known as postpartum depression, may be at play. New parents with postnatal depression may gradually become more isolated and lonely, as the mental health condition can be persistent. Among women in the UK, an estimated one in ten experience postnatal depression after the birth of a child, along with some new fathers, although the true number of parents with the condition may be far higher than is currently known.
Postnatal depression has become more well-known among parents and parents-to-be in the last several years as the stigma attached to mental health disorders begins to fade away. Unfortunately, many new parents, both moms and dads, experience the condition in silence, and without the support and treatment they need. In order to help those with postpartum depression get back to a place of health and well-being, ones closest to them need to understand the warning signs of the condition, as well as why it may be initially overlooked as a serious health concern.
One of the challenges of postpartum depression and related mental health conditions after the birth or adoption of a child revolves around the fact that the symptoms and warning signs may appear gradually over time. Not all new parents with postnatal depression experience common symptoms straight away; instead, red flags may appear over the course of several weeks, months, or up to two years after the child has made his or her arrival into the family. Whenever symptoms do occur, they may resemble the following:
- Persistent feelings of loneliness, sadness, or overwhelm
- Lethargy and exhaustion, beyond what most new parents experience
- Feelings of inadequacy or an inability to cope
- Guilt and anxiety
- Tearfulness or irritability
- Having obsessive thoughts
- Lack of appetite or overeating
- Isolation from family and social interactions
- Difficulty sleeping
- Panic attacks
- An inability to bond with the child
In addition to these common warning signs, postpartum depression can have an impact on a parent’s ability to focus or make sound decisions. The condition may also result in headaches, stomach aches, or stiffness in the body. In some rare cases, postnatal anxiety disorders may develop, as well as obsessive-compulsive disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder. If any of these symptoms occur for an extended period, it is necessary to consult a doctor as soon as possible.
Why Delayed Diagnosis is Prevalent
According to a teams of experts in medical negligence claims, postpartum depression is often left undiagnosed or misdiagnosed among new parents. In most cases, the focus of doctor’s visits after a child is born or adopted into a family is solely on the well-being of that child. The parents, unless they specifically bring up a health concern, are assumed to be fine and managing their new life with an infant. In other situations, new parents feel a tremendous amount of guilt for experiencing one or more of the symptoms of postnatal depression. Because of this heavy guilt, they fail to speak up about their concerns and therefore, receive no treatment.
Without the right plan of action for ongoing treatment and support, new parents with postpartum depression may find it difficult to cope over time. The good news is that there are several treatment options available when postnatal depression is diagnosed properly in its early stages. This gives new parents an optimistic outlook on the future, not only for themselves, but for their child.
Support and Treatment Options
Parents who speak up about their mental health concerns, or those who have loved ones who recognise the warning signs of postnatal depression and encourage them to seek treatment have options for getting better. The first line of defense in managing postnatal depression is typically psychotherapy. This is a form of talk therapy facilitated by a mental health professional in which new parents are given emotional support as well as the skills they need to cope with depression symptoms. When talk therapy is not enough, parents may be prescribed an antidepressant to help ease discomfort over time. A qualified medical provider will be able to assess the severity of the symptoms and make a recommendation for which treatment option or combination of options is best suited for the mother or father.
Postpartum depression can be a debilitating condition, but new parents with the correct diagnosis and plan for treatment can and will get back to a position of good health in time. New parents may also find the help they need through local support groups or online forums that bring others with the condition together. While the stigma of depression and other mental health disorders continues to face, parents and those close to them need to be diligent to take care of themselves so they can provide the best possible care for their new child.