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Mother’s Day: A Timeline of Depression for New Mothers and When to Seek Help

“Postpartum is a quest back to yourself. Alone in your body again. You will never be the same, you are stronger than you were.”

Amethyst Joy

Pregnant mothers struggling with depression

As we approach Mother’s Day, new mothers will be reflecting on their journey into motherhood/parenthood, and those with a bit of distance from giving birth may be reflecting on what it now means to be both a mother and a grandmother. A topic that may not be openly discussed however, on this day of celebration, is the all too often neglected or taboo subject of mothers and depression. Specifically, mothers whose mental and emotional health has been severely impacted by pregnancy and post-pregnancy.

At Addcounsel, we recognise how hard it is for mothers struggling with depression during pregnancy and/or the months after giving birth. We understand this is a highly sensitive topic which is all too often overlooked in society and inappropriately compared to other types of clinical depression in a way which undermines what many mothers are experiencing. Some people will minimise any discussion of depression associated with a pregnancy as “baby blues” and nothing more than that. Although more mothers are now talking about their experience in the workplace or online, the topic of depression associated with pregnancy is something that a lot of mothers wish to keep private. This is often due to social stigma, shame, and misunderstanding around the subject (especially at a time when we seem to be besieged by images of Instamums radiating health and wellbeing which only adds to the pressure felt by many). Postnatal depression (postpartum depression) is a condition which many are familiar with, but this isn’t so much the case with prenatal depression and antenatal depression. In this article, we’ll gently explore depression and other mental health problems associated with pregnancy and expel any myths associated with pregnant and post-pregnant mothers who are struggling with these.

What is antenatal depression?

Antenatal depression can occur during pregnancy and is still relatively unknown. Approximately 12% of women experience antenatal depression. Emotions often run high during pregnancy, from bouts of anger and frustration to feelings of euphoric and joy, but antenatal depression is different. Without awareness of the illness, and the necessary support and treatment, it can cause acute suffering and distress to the mother and ultimately, the baby. Let’s look at the symptoms of antenatal depression. Keep in mind that these symptoms and traits will occur at different stages of the pregnancy, and some may even all occur over any 24-hour period which can be deeply unsettling. If women experience any of the symptoms below, then we always recommend talking to a healthcare specialist.

  • Persistent sadness
  • A sense of hopelessness
  • Chronic anxiety to the point of finding everyday tasks a challenge
  • Physical exhaustion and tiredness
  • Disturbed sleep and/or lack of sleep
  • A feeling of apathy about oneself and one’s pregnancy (often followed by bouts of shame)
  • Anxiety around bonding with the baby
  • Suicidal ideation—in some cases thoughts of harming the baby
  • Prolonged feelings of dread about the future
  • Overwhelm at the prospect of giving birth
  • Projecting negative aspects of parenthood
  • Poor concentration—some report feeling they have a foggy brain (commonly and unhelpfully described as “baby brain”)
  • A low sex drive or no interest in sexual activity whatsoever (this can occur even if a mother doesn’t have antenatal depression)
  • Extreme mood swings spanning from rage to feelings of intense vulnerability and insecurity

What is prenatal depression (perinatal depression)

Prenatal depression occurs during pregnancy or after childbirth. It’s important to point out that prenatal depression is very different from what used to be known as “baby blues” which is used to describe mild mood changes such as melancholy and anxiety which can be experienced in the early days after the birth. Prenatal depression, however, usually occurs four to eight weeks before giving birth, and is characterised by a range of deeply distressing emotions which can impede the individual affected from carrying out the simplest of tasks.  NHS England writes: “Perinatal mental health (PMH) problems are those which occur during pregnancy or in the first year following the birth of a child. Perinatal mental illness affects up to 27% of new and expectant mums and covers a wide range of conditions. If left untreated, mental health issues can have significant and long-lasting effects on the woman, the child, and the wider family.”

Let’s look at the symptoms of perinatal depression (if women experience any of the symptoms below, we always recommend talking to a healthcare specialist):

  • Profound and overwhelming feelings of hopelessness and cynicism
  • Feeling numb and disconnected
  • Persistent feelings of sadness, regret, and a sense of loneliness for more than two weeks
  • Apathy about the pregnancy (often followed by bouts of shame)
  • Mood swings ranging from anger, rage, irritability, frustration, and restlessness
  • A loss of interest in pleasurable activities and hobbies
  • Chronic anxiety
  • Persistent feelings of “uselessness” and self-disgust
  • Physical exhaustion and abnormal tiredness
  • Trouble bonding with the baby
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Thoughts of harming the baby
  • Memory loss (temporary)
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • A deep sense of inadequacy as a new parent

What is postnatal depression (postpartum depression)?

According to National Library of Medicine (USA): “The terms “postpartum period” and “postnatal period” are often used interchangeably but sometimes separately, when “postpartum” refers to issues pertaining to the mother and “postnatal” refers to those concerning the baby.” In this section of the article, we’ll use postnatal to describe the symptoms of a mother experiencing acute depression after giving birth. Approximately, 1 in 10 mothers will experience postnatal depression. With respect to the cause of postnatal depression, the Royal College of Psychiatrists states: “Many possible causes for PND have been suggested. There is probably no single reason, but a number of different stresses may add up to cause it. You are more likely to have PND if you have:

  • • Previous mental health problems, including depression
  • • Depression or anxiety during pregnancy
  • • Poor support from partner, family, or friends—or marital difficulties
  • • A recent stressful event—e.g. death of someone close to you, relationship ending, losing a job.
  • • Experienced domestic violence or previous abuse
  • • Arrived in a developed country as a refugee or to seek asylum

There may be a physical cause for your depression, such as an underactive thyroid or low levels of vitamin B12. These can be easily treated. PND can start for no obvious reason, without any of these causes. Also having these problems does not mean that you will definitely have PND.”

More than ever, women are talking publicly about postnatal depression (including public figures, elite athletes, and artists), which goes some way toward creating more awareness and removing any historic stigma, guilt or shame associated with the condition. In 2018, Serena Williams said describing her postnatal depression and her baby: “Honestly, sometimes I still think I have to deal with (postpartum depression). I think people need to talk about it more because it’s almost like the fourth trimester, it’s part of the pregnancy. I remember one day, I couldn’t find Olympia’s bottle and I got so upset I started crying… because I wanted to be perfect for her.” 

Let’s look at the symptoms of postnatal depression. If any of the symptoms below persist, we always recommend talking to a healthcare specialist:

  • Persistent mood swings. For example, persistent weeping for no obvious reason
  • Feeling cynical about one’s relationships and humanity
  • Withdrawing from family, friends, colleagues, and business associates
  • Insomnia
  • A profound sense of inadequacy around being a ‘good parent’ or caring for the baby
  • Apathy around parenthood and life in general
  • Feeling physically exhausted
  • Suicidal ideation and/or thoughts of harming the baby
  • Indifference around personal appearance and neglecting any form of self-care
  • Issues with concentration and focusing on tasks at hand
  • A loss of interest in pleasurable activities and hobbies
  • Deep feelings of shame and self-loathing
  • A loss of appetite or comfort eating
  • Panic and/or paranoia about the baby’s welfare

Pregnant mothers suffering with both addiction and depression

Hayden Panettiere recently openly discussed her battle with both opioid addiction and postnatal depression. Although physically abstinent during pregnancy, she succumbed to alcohol addiction after giving birth, leading to a full-blown relapse. Life got so difficult that in 2018, Panettiere sent her child to live with her father in Ukraine. She described her experience of postnatal depression: “I never had the feeling that I wanted to harm my child, but I didn’t want to spend any time with her. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do, but I wanted to be a good mom to her — and sometimes that means letting them go.”

Some pregnant/new mothers will experience both depressions associated with pregnancy/postpartum while struggling with alcoholism and drug addiction and/or an addictive behaviour such as an eating disorder. This’ll be extremely difficult to cope with and will cause severe emotional, psychological, and physical distress. Alcohol is a depressant, and so alcohol addiction, combined with the acute hormonal changes that occur during and after pregnancy will lead to a rollercoaster of unwelcome emotions which can often feel overwhelming and at times terrifying. Many mothers have battled through untreated addiction and/or an eating disorder whilst going through antenatal/prenatal and postnatal depression alone, due to the extreme stigma attached to women with addictive behaviours at this time. There’s an ingrained societal expectation that an expectant or new mother will be blooming with health and joy, and so the shame felt by a woman who doesn’t feel this way and is self-medicating with alcohol/drugs to ease her emotional pain often leads to secrecy around the behaviours and ultimately self-isolation. There can also be an intense fear of being judged and labelled an unfit parent by health professionals which can put up yet another barrier to seeking help.

No one is to blame for depression

Our team at Addcounsel wishes to emphasise to those of you dealing with depression and/or an untreated addiction during or after pregnancy that it’s not your fault, and you’re in no way to blame. Depression is an illness, and addiction is a brain disorder. Combined, they’re awful to live with and without the appropriate support and treatment will be deleterious to both the mother and the infant. Keeping in mind that this a time when a woman is at her most vulnerable, it’s essential to reach out and ask for help. We know how difficult this can be, and we’ll offer you the care and understanding so necessary for a full recovery from this distressing condition. You’re not alone.

Addcounsel offers expert private and luxury rehab in London. We provide specialist treatment mental health, and behavioural conditions. Our bespoke treatments are delivered with compassion and care by highly skilled mental wellbeing specialists, following our ‘one client at a time’ methodology. This involves dedicated, one-to-one therapy in an individual setting—no groups or other clients, ensuring an unrivalled level of care, and complete anonymity.

When you check in to our discreet central London rehabilitation facility, you’ll be embarking upon a personalised treatment programme tailored to your individual needs. We offer luxury private accommodation for the duration of your stay, with 24/7 access to a team of world-class experts headed by one of the UK’s leading psychiatrists.

Our multidisciplinary team boasts a wealth of mental wellbeing knowledge and expertise in every aspect of your recovery. Dedicated psychiatrists, nutritionists, therapists, and addiction specialists will create a comprehensive process designed specifically for you. Our focus isn’t just on your mind; we understand the important roles that genetics, nutrition and lifestyle can play in the development of depression and/or drug and alcohol dependency, and in the process of recovery. 

Experts will assess the factors that led to your mental health condition or addiction, leverage the world’s most extensive menu of therapy services to help you recover, and create a robust aftercare programme to support re-integration into your family and lifestyle. Contact us today to start your recovery journey.

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