How To Know If You’re Suffering With Postpartum Depression or Anxiety
According to the Centre for Disease Control, approximately 11-20% of women who have given birth in the United States experience postpartum depression each year. Other countries like Australia display similar statistics. Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia (PANDA) notes approximately 1 in 10 women and 1 in 20 men experience antenatal depression (anxiety and depression during pregnancy). Further, approximately 1 in 7 new mums and 1 in 10 new dads experience postnatal depression each year in Australia. However, despite these statistics, only a small proportion of mothers suffering from depression and/or anxiety seek professional help.
Why Do So Many Mothers Avoid Seeking Help?
There are a range of reasons why mothers do not seek help for anxiety and depression, either in pregnancy or after birth. Mothers report there is the stigma associated with admitting they are not coping. They also report feeling embarrassed, guilty or ashamed for not experiencing the euphoria a mother is ‘meant’ to experience when she becomes a mother. These feelings are heightened even further is a mother has been trying to fall pregnant for some time.
Mothers are expected to always be full of energy, happy, besotted and in control during motherhood. However, this is ideal of the Perfect Mum, is often very far removed from every day life. However, when mothers suffer in silence, they leave themselves open to trying other coping mechanisms, such as self medicating with drugs and alcohol to cope and potentially living with lifelong depression and anxiety.
There are a number of warning signs that you may be experiencing postpartum depression
Here are 6 key questions to ask yourself if you or someone close to you suspects you may have postpartum depression
“Am I feeling worthless, hopeless, helpless, or excessively guilty?”
“Am I feeling sad or down more often than usual?”
“Feeling restless, irritable or stressed?”
“Have I lost interest in being social?”
“Am I showing little interest in my baby?”
“Have I lost motivation, or energy for things I used to enjoy?”
If you answered “YES” to any of these questions, it is very important to seek professional help. You can begin by talking to a trained mental health therapist, talking to your General Practitioner, or calling an organisation like COPE or PANDA.
Other Common Symptoms of Postpartum Depression?
The MAYO Clinic identifies the following symptoms that are often associated with postpartum depression (mothers may experience some or all of these symptoms during their depression):
- loss of appetite
- intense irritability
- difficulty bonding with the baby
- negative emotions such as anger, anxiety, guilt, hopelessness, panic attacks
- loss of interest or pleasure in activities
- emotions reactions such as crying, restlessness, depression, fear
- weight gain or weight loss
- lack of concentration
IMPORTANT NOTE: If you suspect you may also be experiencing more severe symptoms, such as fearing you may hurt your baby, or yourself, please seek help immediately. Pick up the phone and contact your GP, your obstetrician, your midwife, or your mental health practitioner today. These symptoms should be treated immediately.
Causes of Postpartum Depression?
There are three main causes of postpartum depression:
- Hormonal Changes after childbirth (e.g. a drop in oestrogen and progesterone resulting in feeling tired, sluggish and depressed)
- Emotional changes (e.g. being sleep deprived, coping with external pressures/stress, feeling overwhelmed)
- Expectations not being met
Becoming a new mum can be a shock, particularly if expectations about motherhood do not match reality. This issue has been heightened in modern life due to the influence and exposure to the mass media and social media. Mothers in general spend a significant proportion of time on social media like Facebook. As a result, social comparison easily influences a mother’s perspective of how well she is coping. Social media provides a very skewed perspective of people’s lives, mainly because people tend to post the good times in their lives. So very quickly you can look at someone’s profile and assume they are always looking healthy, happy, energise, always having fun and very socially connected.
In addition to this, famous mums can give the misconception of being the ‘Perfect Mum’. Their ‘posts’ highlighting them looking immaculate, with beautiful houses, perfectly dressed children, in healthy relationships and looking energised and happy. This may be true of a portion of their lives, but it is not a true picture of their reality. Famous mums like Blake Lively have had to refute publicly comments that her life is perfect – because her Instagram posts give this perception.
Unfortunately, it’s easy to get caught up in social comparison when:
- you feel tired
- your baby won’t sleep easily
- you feel lonely
- you’re having problems breastfeeding
- you feel unsupported at home
- you are having money problems
- you’re feeling like a failure
However, it’s important to trust that perception is not reality and all mums are going through their own personal struggles. Social media posts are often well crafted and only show you the part of a person’s life he/she WANTS you to see. That is not their whole reality.
What if I don’t think I have postpartum depression, but I’m not coping as well as I thought I would?
It should also be noted, that many mothers experience depression and/or anxiety after childbirth and ignore these symptoms. These women feel their symptoms are not as severe as those described above. Ignoring feelings of depression and anxiety often leads to these negative feelings worsening, causing mothers to struggle emotionally throughout motherhood.
Feelings of insecurity, lack of self-confidence, low self-esteem, emotional eating/drinking are just some of the consequences of ignored depression and anxiety. So, if you not feeling as good as you hoped you would, or are not coping as well as you would like to cope, don’t continue to battle these emotions alone. Start by downloading the free chapter of the book Perfect Mum: How To Survive The Emotional Rollercoaster of Motherhood so you can begin to find better coping strategies and feel more hopeful and happy in your new role.
So What Can You Do If You’re Experiencing Depression or Anxiety in Pregnancy or Motherhood?
how to survive motherhood as a new mum
You are not alone. Don’t wait until your symptoms worsen. If you identified with any of these symptoms described above, please seek help as soon as possible. Don’t struggle alone.
In the meantime, make sure you ask for help from those close to you. Find ways you can get some good quality sleep and support during times when you need it most. Ensure you have a healthy diet that is not too high in carbohydrates and ensure you are being physically active every day. Research shows improving your healthy lifestyle behaviours elevates your baseline moods and has a positive impact on depression and anxiety overall. So focussing on your health is a really good place to start your journey towards feeling happier and more confident in motherhood.
Experts are here to help you
You are never alone and should not feel like a failure because you are not feeling as positive as you would have hoped. Depression and anxiety can strike anyone at any time of life. Motherhood is a testing time for all mothers. Seek help when you’re feeling depressed or anxious. It is the best thing you can do for yourself and your baby.
You can also start by accessing these FREE ONLINE RESOURCES
Seek Help Immediate
If you or your partner are at immediate risk of harm call 000 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.
By Lizzie O’Halloran, Founder of Help For Mums