Women go through several biological phases in their lives - puberty, pregnancy, motherhood, post menstrual phase and old age. Each stage can be overwhelming in its own way. In some cases, these stages may cause physical ailments that could persist for a long duration. Trying to cope with such ailments may affect the woman's mental health and lead to the development of depression or anxiety disorders. It is estimated that one in five women suffer from depression during some phase in their lives.
Some of the factors that could cause depression in women are:
Megha had just delivered a healthy baby and her family was overjoyed. Megha, however, began feeling restless after a few days. The baby's erratic feeding times and sleep patterns were causing Megha a lot of stress. She would weep and worry constantly. She would get irritated by small things, fret about her body, and refuse to take care of her baby. She lost her appetite and ate irregularly. Confused by her behavior, her family consulted their general physician, who advised them to meet a psychiatrist. The diagnosis confirmed that Megha was suffering from postpartum depression.
This fictional narrative has been constructed to aid the understanding of this disorder by placing it in a real-life situation.
The pain and stress of childbearing, combined with anxiety, fear, excitement, and life adjustments, can make the mother very vulnerable.
Postpartum blues: Most mothers become emotional with perhaps depressed mood, crying spells, irritability, anxiety, appetite disturbance, headache and forgetfulness. This is post-partum blues. This condition is temporary and the mother will recover within 10 days. If these emotional changes persist for several weeks, this is probably an illness called postnatal or postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression: Postpartum depression affects new mothers and often presents in the first six weeks. However, the illness may not be diagnosed for many months, or at all. Postpartum depression requires treatment.
The exact cause of postpartum depression is not known, but doctors observe that it may be due to sudden hormonal and physical changes, and the stress of taking care of a newborn baby.
Important: Sometimes, women may develop depression called antenatal or perinatal depression during pregnancy. In this case, seek professional help. Before taking any medication, check with your doctor about the risks and benefits to you and your baby. Taking medication during pregnancy may affect your baby. At the same time, not taking medication also may be risky to you and your baby. Discuss with your doctor and then go ahead with your decision.
The symptoms of postpartum depression are:
In severe cases, the mother may also have thoughts of suicide or of harming the baby. She may not realize that she is unwell. She needs urgent psychiatric help and sometimes hospital admission. The family's support can help the mother get treatment and recover.
Any of the following factors may trigger postpartum depression:
Some mothers will be offered treatment, which may be psychological, medication or both. The mother is encouraged to continue to breastfeed if possible, as a way of both nurthuring and bonding with her baby. The doctor and mother will discuss the balance of risk and benefits of taking medication, but this will be the mother's choice. Emotional support and care from the family can greatly help the mother's recovery.
We do not know how to prevent postpartum depression because it is an illness and it is no one's fault when the illness occurs. However, families can work together to support the mother as well as reduce the risk of severity if the illness occurs.
As you begin treatment, often, your family will notice your improvement before you do. Here are some guidelines to help you cope with the condition.