Is Postpartum Depression Separate from Depression?
While for most people, having a child is a joyous experience it can also be a very stressful event and a major life change that can leave some women reeling. Postpartum depression is a specific mental health problem that occurs within 4 to 6 weeks of giving birth. While it is a form or subset of depression and shares many of the same symptoms, it has its own unique issues that make it different from major depression.
One of the things that makes postpartum depression a unique mental illness is that the onset of symptoms occur in connection with the birth of a child and are usually not present prior to the event. Women with a history of mental illness can be more at risk for postpartum depression but the symptoms typically occur suddenly and severely as they care for their newborn child. The illness is often triggered by the stress associated with motherhood.
Most women experience some form of sadness following the birth of their child and it is commonly called “the baby blues”. This is a period of usually about one or two weeks when a new mother feels overwhelmed and fatigued while caring for a newborn. Some studies say that up to 85% of women feel some degree of sadness after giving birth or have bouts of crying, mood swings, or anxiety.
Postpartum depression is different than than “the baby blues” as it can last much longer than a few weeks and can include more severe symptoms. This type of depression occurs in about 20 percent of new mothers in the months after giving birth. It usually occurs in mothers but there have been a few cases of fathers experiencing depression symptoms with a newborn child.
Identifying Symptoms of Postpartum Depression
When a new mother is struggling with emotional ups and downs for more than a few weeks then they might be experiencing postpartum depression rather than the baby blues. Here are some of the symptoms of postpartum:
- irritability or anger
- depressed mood or severe mood swings
- sleep problems such as insomnia
- appetite and weight changes
- overwhelming fatigue or loss of energy
- lack of interest in the baby or feeling disconnected
- sense of shame or guilt
- trouble concentrating or making decisions
- suicidal thoughts
- thoughts of harming yourself or the baby
- severe anxiety or panic attacks
If you or someone you know has had any of these symptoms then it might be an issue with postpartum depression. This mental illness, if left untreated, can be an ongoing problem that lasts several months or even longer. If any of these symptoms last more than two weeks after the baby is born than it is important to talk to a doctor.
Postpartum depression can become problematic if it is not treated because it can make it hard for women to care for their child. It can even become difficult for them to complete everyday tasks if their depression is severe. Thoughts of suicide or harming yourself or the baby are especially dangerous and need to be treated right away by a professional.
Coping with Postpartum Depression
Even if you have had problems with depression in the past it is important to understand that postpartum depression is a unique issue that requires a certain kind of treatment. In some cases, women can be given thyroid medication because their depression is simply a matter or low thyroid hormone levels following pregnancy. Doctors can check thyroid levels with a simple blood test and provide medication to balance hormone levels safely.
If hormone levels are normal, then women can be provided with antidepressants that can help them cope with their symptoms and still be able to care for their child. Medication combined with talk therapy with a licensed therapist or psychologist can help reduce some of the symptoms of depression that are interfering with your life.
In order to maintain good mental health in the early months and even years of motherhood it is important to have a strategy to deal with depression. It can be helpful for mothers to find time for themselves whenever they can to relax and ease stress or make sure they are getting enough sleep. Asking your husband, parents or a babysitter to take over temporarily when you are extremely stressed can help minimize symptoms and prevent them from getting worse.
You can also consider joining a support group to talk with other women who are experiencing postpartum depression so that you have a network of people who understand what you are going through. Talking about your issues with other people in the same position can help you to feel less alone and less ashamed of your illness.
Postpartum depression can be devastating to new mothers but with treatment, medication and the right amount of support it is possible to recover.