Human beings go through various phases of feeling low, sad, or abandoned at some stage of their lives that immensely impact their thought patterns, behavior, and course of life. While low mood, loss of interest in daily activities, anxiety issues, and emotional ups and downs are common phenomena nowadays, when the range of this desolation persists for over weeks or months, it is termed depression or a depressive disorder.
A serious medical illness that negatively imbalances the chemicals in the brain such as serotonin or neurotransmitters, it occurs due to hereditary factors, health issues, or sudden traumatic life events. Amongst various forms of depression, one of the increasing forms of mental illness that has primarily affected many women, more so after the pandemic is post-natal depression.
A parent-infant relationship is always an ongoing process, and it is common for many women to experience postpartum baby blues after childbirth that include mood swings, insomnia, crying spells, and anxiety. However, they typically clear within two to three weeks after delivery, becoming a cause of concern only when with extreme despair, the new mother withdraws herself from the newborn for a longer than usual period and exhibits extreme sadness, exhaustion, and lack of interest in daily care activities for herself and the baby. Doctors term this a postnatal or postpartum depression which can range from mild and transient, to severe and lingering. Symptoms of this mental ailment that last for two years or more is defined as persistent depressive disorder.
Postnatal depression is associated with childbirth and can affect both sexes. While the cure for all genders can be pretty much similar, by and large, women tend to experience different symptoms of depression as compared to men. A woman experiences dramatic hormonal changes due to menstruation, pregnancy, and childbirth. The severity of symptoms and how long they last vary on the person and his or her state of mind and health condition. The range of symptoms of PND in a woman is intense and may include:
- Low self-esteem
- Feelings of guilt
- Negative thoughts
- Feeling paranoid
- Unable to cope with pressure
- Irritability and mood swings
- Sleep disorders
- Anxiety attacks accompanied by heart palpitations
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty in concentrating
- Low sex drive
- Loss of interest in daily activities
- Lack of interest in the newborn
Factors Contributing To Postnatal Depression
To rule out the exact causes of PND is difficult, but some contributing factors might include:
Delivering a child is a tedious and an overwhelming experience for a woman. After pregnancy and upon embracing motherhood, there is a sudden drop in pregnancy hormones that affect neurotransmitters of the brain. Changes in body structure, labor pain, delivery process, post-operative procedure, and many other changes may cause drastic mood swings, leading to PND.
While the newborn brings joy to the family, dynamics in the relationships of the woman (who has become a new mom) with everyone go through many changes. There is an immense responsibility that could be overwhelming for the mother who is recovering from childbirth. Loss of independence, emotional burden, and adapting to the new environment could bring a state of depressiveness to the mother or even to the father.
Society pressure is one of the biggest causes that may put an extra load on both parents, more on the new mom. There are certain expectations from her, which a woman may feel she needs to live up to. Keeping in contact with her friends or adapting to the new lifestyle may be difficult for her.
A healthy and strong couple relationship is very important in dealing with the situations after the child comes into their life. A bitter relationship that has deteriorated can be a causative factor in contributing to this disorder.
The doctor decides the treatment after gauging the mental health of the patient to identify between normal postpartum baby blues and severe forms of depression. As part of the evaluation, the doctor conducts depression screening that could be from asking many questions to a physical examination. He or she may also order blood tests to rule out some underlying disease such as thyroid or certain hereditary factors to find the precise cause of the problem.
Postnatal depression can last for longer than expected and if not treated, can be serious. The earlier it is diagnosed and treated, the better are the chances of recovery. Treatment may require a combination of medications such as antipsychotic medications and mood stabilizers besides several types of psychotherapy or counseling sessions. If postpartum depression is severe and the patient is not responding to other options, ECT may be recommended. It is a procedure in which electrical currents are passed through the brain, triggering a brief seizure intentionally. ECT causes changes in brain chemistry to reduce the symptoms.The thumb rule of depression is that there is no one-size-fits-all kind of treatment for any form of mental illness. It takes some trial, error, and time to find the treatment that works best for the patient. Above all, strong emotional support, a healthy diet, assistance in baby care, and patience is the key factor in a woman’s recovery from PND.