August 14, 2007
Headline: Into the blue
The 'baby blues' is a transient condition that affects about 80% of women following the birth of their baby. It involves a new mother feeling sadness and experiencing crying spells and sudden mood swings for a couple of weeks after the birth. However, Denise Lawler, lecturer at the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Trinity College Dublin, explains that longer lasting postnatal depression is not considered to be a normal emotional transition.
Symptoms of postnatal depression can include: panic attacks and anxiety; sleep disturbances; constant worrying; obsessive or irrational thoughts; extreme sadness; and tiredness or tendencies towards self harm. Multiple theories exist as to the cause of post-natal depression, which has a slow onset and can lead to a state of chronic depression. "From a biological perspective, doctors think it could be a decrease in hormones. From a psychological or psychosocial perspective, it could be related to a previous history. It's also related to life-changing events," outlines Lawler.
She says it's important to recognise that women don't necessarily have to have a risk factor to develop post-natal depression. "All women who have given birth are at risk of post-natal depression because the incidence is about one in 10 women." The condition is still stigmatised, often by the woman herself, who may feel a failure for admitting that she is finding it difficult to cope. Lawler says post-natal depression usually starts within two weeks after the birth and can occur at any stage in the first year. It can become quite prolonged, depending on the symp- toms of the woman and whether she identifies it early on and seeks help.
"The woman may not have enough knowledge about post-natal depression, so she can't recognise the symptoms. In addition, because one of the symptoms is irrational thinking, she may not be able to think about what she's going through." Lawler suggests that women with post-natal depression should contact their public health nurse or their general practitioner.
Depending on the individual, structured counselling may be required with or without medical intervention. "The nature of post-natal depression is that it's slow and insidious. Following the baby's delivery, there may be elation. By the time women go home, the realisation of their new role starts to impact upon them. That's when their coping skills start to diminish," explains Lawler. Based in Cork, Post Natal Depression Ireland offers support to women with post-natal depression and their families. For further information, visit www.pnd.ie