What is depression in women?
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:
Menstrual cycle changes and related ailments, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), menopause
Sexuality and body image issues
Lack of freedom to make decisions (being controlled by parents, husband, or in-laws)
Changes in lifestyle due to work, marriage or migration
Marital conflicts such as divorce, an extra marital affair, or incompatibility
Previous episodes of depression, postpartum depression
Lack of social support
Unwanted pregnancy, miscarriage, or infertility
Being overburdened with responsibilities, or single parenthood
Trauma due to physical or mental abuse. Read more on intimate partner violence.
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.
What is postpartum depression?
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.
What are the symptoms of postpartum depression?
The symptoms of postpartum depression are:
Low self-esteem and doubts about parenting capabilities
Feeling helpless and irritated even if social emotional support is good
Constantly worrying about the baby or lack of interest in taking care of the baby
Stress and strain due to change of routine at home
Feeling bitter about bodily changes
Not being able to sleep even when the baby is asleep
Excessive anxiety about returning or not returning to workplace
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.
Risks of developing postpartum depression
Any of the following factors may trigger postpartum depression:
History of postpartum depression
Pre-existing depression not related to pregnancy
History of bipolar disorder
Reduced or discontinued medication during pregnancy
A difficult or very stressful marriage or relationship
Stressful life events during pregnancy or after childbirth (such as severe illness during pregnancy, premature birth or a difficult delivery, bereavement)
Lack of support from family or friends
Severe premenstrual syndrome
Treatment for 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 nurturing 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.
Coping with postpartum depression
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.
Ask for support and assistance from family and friends. Do not feel too proud to ask.
Take help for baby care so you can get the much needed sleep.
Accept help with household tasks like cleaning, cooking, washing and ironing.
Try and sleep when your baby sleeps.
It may take several weeks before your establish a routine. Prioritize time for your own meals, bathing and gentle exercise.
If you don't feel well and think you have postpartum depression, discuss with your gynecologist as soon as possible.
Avoid alcohol and other drugs.
Find and make time to do something you enjoyed before the birth of the baby.
Do not burden yourself with too many tasks, but don't keep yourself idle either.
Complete one task at a time. Break up large tasks into small ones, and do as much as possible.
Spend time with other people and talk to a friend or relative about your feelings.
Seek help from family or nurse to help you in caring for the baby.
Try not to make important life decisions until you feel better. Discuss important matters like finance, work, etc., with your family members.
Do not blame yourself. Postpartum depression can affect any new mother.