Antenatal and post-natal depression
Though not spoken of enough, perinatal disorders affect approximately 20% of all new mothers and up to 40% of mothers who have previously suffered from another mental health condition prior to becoming pregnant. Women are at increased risk of depression during pregnancy and in the year following childbirth.
According to Beyond Blue, the causes of depression at this time are complex. ‘Baby blues’ may occur where hormonal changes affect up to 80% of women in the first few weeks postpartum, commonly due to the many adjustments a woman makes in her journey to becoming a new mother. Depression, on the other hand, is much longer lasting and associated with more severe signs and symptoms, affecting the mother, her baby and the relationships with other members of the family.
The Black Dog Institute has a number of fact sheets that can be referred to regarding perinatal illness, found at www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/docs/DepressionduringPregnancyandthePostnatalPeriod.pdf.
Perinatal disorders in mothers and fathers
Though postpartum depression is by far the most well known disorder spoken of, both mothers and fathers can suffer from a range of other mental health disorders including antenatal anxiety, depression, an array of post-traumatic stress disorders or even a mental health disorder with psychotic features. Most prominently affecting new mothers within the first month after delivery when sleepless nights settle in with often a complete change of household roles and responsibilities, adjustment and adaptation, fathers sometimes also find themselves struggling a few months later even though the rates of perinatal depression in men is far less noted in public forums.
Risk Factors for perinatal mental illness include: personal history of psychiatric illness, familial history of affective or anxiety disorders, isolation, low level of maternal and or paternal support, numerous additional life stressors, perfectionistic personality style, low education/socioeconomic status or personal history of childhood abuse (1).
“The stigma of depression, as well as being labelled a failure and a bad mother, are still strong disincentives for women to acknowledge that they might be at risk or need help. Although awareness campaigns help, some women still struggle to recognise that they might be depressed, particularly when the pregnancy has been planned and the baby is wanted and loved. Aversion to taking medication, especially when pregnant or breastfeeding, adds to the reluctance to seek help. (1, 182)”
(1) Australian Family Physician “Perinatal mental health: Identifying problems and managing medications”
Volume 43, No.4, April 2014 Pages 182-185
Perinatal depression is very different to the more common experience mothers have of ‘postnatal blues’. Postnatal blues is different to perinatal depression as it affects 50-80% of new mothers following the birth of their baby, usually within the first week after delivery – thought to be brought on by a sudden shift in hormones. Symptoms resolve without intervention over a few hours or several days and no specialist treatment is generally required.