The Signs of and Solutions for Postpartum Depression

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New parents, either biological or adoptive, may feel less than equipped to deal with the addition of a child into their family. In some cases this is a natural response to a major life change, but in others, mental health conditions plague an otherwise enjoyable experience. Throughout the world, an estimated one in ten new mothers experiences postnatal (postpartum) depression or anxiety. The condition may also impact new fathers in a similar way, although the discussion surrounding men’s mental health is less prevalent.

Postpartum depression is a mental health condition that can present itself immediately after the birth or adoption of a child, or gradually escalate with a new mother or father over time. The experience of postnatal mental health conditions varies greatly from one parent to the next, but in nearly all cases, it has the potential to be devastating to a family. When postpartum mental health issues are not properly diagnosed and subsequently treated, emotional and physical turmoil can take place that is difficult to remedy. For these reasons, it is necessary to understand the symptoms of mental health issues among new parents, along with the reasons for misdiagnosis and ultimately, plan options for treatment.

Common Red Flags

Paramount to getting a proper diagnosis for postpartum depression is distinguishing a more serious mental health condition from common ‘baby blues.’ The NHS states that postnatal depression often develops within the first six weeks after having or adopting a child, but it can take up to six months to present. In some cases, mothers, or fathers, may not be diagnosed with the more serious condition until two years after the baby enters the picture. This is different from the baby blues in that the warning signs mentioned below are long-lasting. They impact several aspects of everyday life, and unlike the blues, they require a diagnosis and treatment promptly.

The most common red flags associated with postpartum depression include the following, although some women and men may experience other symptoms along the way:

  • Feeling low or sad consistently
  • Irritability
  • Exhaustion, beyond the normal new parent tiredness
  • Inability to fall or stay asleep
  • Changes in appetite
  • Inability to enjoy everyday activities and social interactions
  • Negative thoughts of harming one’s self or the child
  • Feelings of guilt and anxiety
  • Hopelessness and loneliness that is persistent

In addition to these symptoms, new parents may also have difficulty bonding with their new child. Any combination of these issues requires a visit with a doctor to determine if postpartum depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder is at play.

The Case for Misdiagnosis

Although postnatal depression among men and women is somewhat common, getting a proper diagnosis early on in its onset is not. A group of specialists in medical negligence claims explains that the reason behind the inaccurate or missed diagnosis of postnatal mental health conditions has several driving factors. Some new parents feel shameful in bringing up these symptoms with those around them or a member of the medical community. They fear having their child taken away from them, or that they will be labeled as a bad parent because of a condition that is widely out of their control.

In other cases, medical professionals spend more time focusing on the health and well-being of the newborn child, not the mother or father. Throughout all the well-child visits in the first several months of an infant’s life, little acknowledgment of the parents takes place. For this reason, it is common that postpartum depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions with lasting implications are not easily noticed or diagnosed. Without the right diagnosis, new parents may feel even more helpless, and this places undue stress on them, their child, and their loved ones.

How to Help

The good news is that postpartum depression and related mental health conditions after the birth or adoption of a child are treatable with the right help. First, new parents should feel comfortable speaking with a doctor or specialists about their ongoing symptoms. The most common course of action is making a good faith effort to change activities in the home, such as focusing on positive interactions with the child and other family members. However, depending on the severity of the symptoms, other treatment plans may be recommended, such as psychotherapy or antidepressants.

In most cases, the most impactful help for parents with postnatal mental health issues is support from friends and family. Several organisations offer local support groups for new parents and family members, as well as a bevy of online resources about common conditions related to mental health after the birth or adoption of a child. Family members, loved ones, and friends can gain more knowledge about postnatal depression and anxiety, and learn the strategies for helping new parents cope with issues in both the immediate and long-term.

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