Our thanks to Dr Bronwyn Leigh for this, the second in our series of Perinatal Mental Health blog posts for April. To see the full list of themes for our 2018 blog series please click here – and please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to contribute!
Bronwyn is a clinical psychologist, perinatal and infant clinician and early parenting consultant, practicing in Australia. She is the Director of the Centre for Perinatal Psychology – an Australia-wide network of psychologists specialising in the emotional well-being of parents and infants before and during pregnancy, and the three years following the birth of a baby. Bronwyn also provides training and supervision in the field of perinatal and infant mental health.
The perinatal period is before and after birth, usually spanning pregnancy and the first year postpartum. While depression can occur at any time during life, the perinatal period is the time of highest risk for a woman to develop, or have a reoccurrence of, a mental health condition.
Chances are you’ve heard of postnatal depression (PND), sometimes called postpartum depression (PPD). PND is a depression that occurs in the first year after the birth of a baby. But what about antenatal depression? Antenatal depression, or depression during pregnancy is far less recognised by health professionals and by expectant parents. Antenatal depression might start in pregnancy or it may have started before conception and remained into pregnancy. Reliable research data highlights antenatal depression is almost as prevalent as postnatal depression.
Perinatal depression does not only affect women – men can also be affected.
The stats are staggering…
1 in 10 pregnant women and 1 in 20 expecting men will be affected by antenatal depression, while 1 in 7 women and 1 in 10 men suffer postnatal depression. In Australia, this equates to almost 80,000 Australian women suffering depression during pregnancy or following the birth of their child (perinatal period) each year. Other countries report similar numbers.
Perinatal depression is different from the baby blues, where new mothers are tearful and feel overwhelmed. The baby blues affects up to 80% of women between days three and ten after birth. This is due to hormonal changes and symptoms usually resolve within a few days.
Symptoms of perinatal depression include:
- Low mood, feeling flat
- Feeling sad, irritable or resentful
- Low motivation
- Low self-esteem and lack of confidence
- Feelings of inadequacy, worthlessness and guilt
- Feeling unable to cope
- Fear of being alone with your baby or excessive worry about your baby
- Loss of interest in things you normally enjoy
- Difficulty getting to sleep despite being tired or excessive sleeping
- Changes in appetite
- Low sex drive
- Difficulty concentrating or remembering things
- Thoughts about harming yourself or your baby, wanting to end your life, or wanting to escape everything
If you have experienced some of these symptoms and they have persisted for two weeks or more, it’s time to get help.
Perinatal psychologists work with families during this life phase and understand how debilitating depression can be when you have a little one to care for (in utero or on the outside). They work with you to improve your mental health and your relationship with your baby. There are safe and effective treatments for perinatal depression available.
But how would you know if seeing a psychologist would be helpful? It can be hard to know for sure, as there are so many factors that are changing at this time. When women and men struggle during pregnancy or after having a baby, it is hard to know how much to attribute to biology, how much to changing circumstances or whether there is something more serious going on that warrants professional treatment. And what’s normal anyway? First time parents don’t have a benchmark to measure against and it can be hard to tease out whether your experience is simply adjustment to a new life or something more serious.
So, here’s one key deciding factor in whether you seek help: if you are distressed by your situation and your distress doesn’t resolve within a couple of weeks, then don’t hesitate to seek help.
A perinatal psychologist can help if:
- You feel distressed
- You feel you are not coping
- You want more support
- Things are not improving on their own
Remember, you are not alone. It is very common to feel wobbly during this life phase, at least at times. Perinatal psychologists are used to seeing men, women and infants with a range of concerns, including depression. They help stabilise you, so you are less wobbly in yourself and in your parenting. Perinatal psychologists are interested in supporting parents so they can enjoy parenthood and optimise their infant’s development.
Dr Bronwyn Leigh
For families in the UK, The PIP Network has a list of parent-infant psychotherapy services: http://www.pipuk.org.uk/node/50. There are also perinatal psychologists practicing all over the UK, such as Ruth Butterworth who kindly spoke at our 2016 conference. The British Psychological Society emphasises that it is the responsibility of each individual to verify, independently, the background, qualifications and experience of any BPS member whose services they are considering using.