Postpartum depression is a serious, treatable condition that comes with many misconceptions. There is still a lot of stigma surrounding mental health issues in general, and postpartum depression is no exception. Because of the social expectation for parents to be overjoyed after having a baby, people may feel ashamed or guilty to admit they are struggling. People may worry that others will judge them or think they are bad parents. In addition, postpartum depression symptoms can be inconsistent, making it difficult for some people to understand how debilitating it can be. Further, many people may not even be aware of what postpartum depression is and how it differs from the “baby blues” or other types of depression. As a result, they may not recognize the symptoms or know how to support someone who is experiencing it.
Ultimately, education and awareness about postpartum depression will help reduce misunderstandings about people living with it. Below are some things that we believe everyone should absolutely know about postpartum depression.
1. It’s not the same as the “baby blues.”
Postpartum depression is not the same as the baby blues. The baby blues are feelings of sadness and overwhelm that occur within the first couple of weeks after childbirth. On the other hand, postpartum depression is a diagnosable mental health condition that is more severe and can last for months or even years.
2. It has nothing to do with your parenting abilities.
Although postpartum depression can make parenting tasks feel emotionally upsetting, the condition itself has nothing to do with one’s parenting abilities. Many people living with postpartum depression are able to carry out their parenting responsibilities in healthy, normal ways, despite feeling depression symptoms on the inside. With proper support and treatment, people with postpartum depression can recover and enjoy parenthood to its fullest potential.
3. It doesn’t only affect new mothers who gave birth.
Although it primarily affects new mothers who have given birth, this condition can also occur in fathers, partners, and people going through adoption who have recently welcomed a child into their family. Like women who gave birth, these individuals are also going through a major life change with the addition of the child. This major life adjustment often comes with high levels of stress, sleep deprivation, and an identity shift as one becomes a parent. Having a genetic predisposition to mental health issues is also a risk factor for any new parent of any gender. Although many people associate hormonal changes in women who gave birth to be the cause of postpartum depression, hormonal changes are certainly not the only cause and may not be relevant in some cases of postpartum depression.
4. It doesn’t always surface immediately after a baby arrives.
While it is common for postpartum depression to occur within the first few weeks or months after childbirth, it can also develop later on, several months or even up to a year postpartum. It is crucial for healthcare professionals to educate and screen all new parents for postpartum depression at various checkpoints within the first year to ensure early recognition and treatment if needed.
5. It might be misunderstood by people in your life.
Unfortunately, not everybody will understand what you are going through. Mental health conditions in general can be misunderstood by friends, family members, and colleagues. Especially in the case of postpartum depression, people in your life may offer congratulations and wish to celebrate what they perceive as a joyous time with you. With postpartum depression, you likely won’t be feeling this way on the inside, which can be highly frustrating. Be gentle with yourself and set boundaries as needed.
6. It can also come with a lot of postpartum anxiety or other symptoms.
In addition to depression symptoms (sadness, hopelessness, emptiness, loss of interest in activities, changes in appetite or sleep patterns), postpartum depression can also include anxiety, mood swings, anger, irritability, behavioral changes, difficulty bonding with the baby, relationship issues, and more. Each and every person’s individual experiences will be unique to them.
7. It doesn’t mean that a person does not love their baby.
It is critical to understand that people living with postpartum depression love their children. Having the condition has nothing to do with your love for your baby. As a society, we must recognize the seriousness of the condition and hold empathy and compassion for people who experience it, rather than letting stigma cloud our judgment. People with postpartum depression can tell you firsthand that they deeply love their children, but are experiencing a condition that causes a great deal of unhappiness. Similar to other forms of depression, the symptoms do not change the love people have for one another.
8. Causes include biological, psychological, and social factors.
Hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding may potentially contribute to mood changes in some women that can lead to postpartum depression. Lack of social support, stress, sleep disruption, and difficulty adjusting to parenthood may also increase susceptibility to postpartum depression. A history of depression or anxiety prior to conception or a family history of mental illness may also increase the likelihood. In addition, life events such as financial struggles or relationship issues can further exacerbate depressive symptoms.
9. Each person’s experience with postpartum depression is different.
Each person’s experience with postpartum depression is unique and requires individualized care. Although symptoms may present similarly, the severity and onset of postpartum depression can differ greatly among people. Coping skills that work for one person may not be effective for another person. Each case is different, so it’s important not to compare yourself to others. Allow yourself to experience your own journey as authentically as you can.
10. Postpartum depression is treatable.
Working with a therapist is the first step in treating postpartum depression. At River Oaks Psychology, we use a patient-centered approach to maximize positive outcomes for each individual. This means that we rely upon your personal ideas, strengths, skills, and goals as we collaboratively develop your treatment plan together. Many people with postpartum depression are able to experience symptom relief through the therapeutic experience. Postpartum support groups and education about self-care strategies can also be components in the successful management of postpartum depression. We will work with you on an individualized basis to determine your needs and guide you toward restoring wellness. If you’re struggling, don’t hesitate to contact us. You’re not alone.
Written by Lauren Presutti