Postnatal depression (PND) affects up to one in seven women in Australia, with the condition typically developing between one month and up to one year after the birth of a child. The psychological adjustment required in transitioning to motherhood mean any mother can be susceptible, particularly if they’ve struggled previously with anxiety or depression.
It’s easy for some of the symptoms of postnatal depression to be mistaken for ‘normal’ difficulties such as fatigue and the feeling of not knowing what to do. At times women might not even know that their suffering something they need help with, especially if it is their first child or they don’t have anyone in their life to help identify their struggle is beyond the usual transition to motherhood adjustments .
To understand more about postnatal depression, we spoke to Lysn psychologist Elyse McNeil who outlines below the common symptoms to look out for in yourself or someone close:
Lack of interest
Losing interest in things you typically enjoy is a common symptom of depression, and also seen in PND. In PND this can also include losing interest in their baby and not finding aspects of that experience interesting in the way they typically might. They might feel like there is nothing that excites them anymore or nothing to look forward to, and that things won’t get better.
Feeling resentful towards a partner, other mothers or even their own baby is a common symptom of postnatal depression. This often can be paired with other emotions such as anger or irritability. Women can experience a lot of guilt for feeling this way but it is a really common symptom in PND.
Changes in sleeping pattern
It’s quite obvious that having a new born usually means that a woman’s sleeping pattern will change however this can also be a symptom of postnatal depression. Not being able to sleep when a person has the opportunity, or wanting to sleep all the time are both signs of postnatal depression.
Women who suffer from postnatal depression often feel very alone and isolated in their situation, even though they may have strong support networks. They might feel disconnected from other people, even their partner, as if they need to take on the burden on their own. The sense of isolation can be compounded too by feelings of guilt or shame about the way they are feeling about their baby and being a mother.
Postnatal depression can often bring on potentially harmful thoughts, such as wanting to hurt the baby or other children, or hurting oneself.
A new baby can bring on a range of emotions however someone that is suffering from postnatal depression can feel particularly emotional and sensitive. This usually means they are close to tears most of the time and sensitive to other people’s comments and offers for help, sometimes taking offence or worrying extensively about comments of others that normally wouldn’t bother them.
Loss of confidence
New mothers experiencing postnatal depression can often feel hopeless, worthless and lose their confidence altogether. They may feel unequipped to bring up a child and question their abilities as a person and mother. This symptom is also associated with a strong feeling of embarrassment and shame for women, feeling like they should ‘just know’ what to do and that they must be ‘defective’ as a mother if they don’t intuitively know how to care for and respond to their baby.
Lack of energy
Lacking energy or having no energy at all are signs that someone might be suffering from postnatal depression. Many of these symptoms can be construed as ‘normal’ responses to having a baby, however, in PND, the symptoms interfere more significantly and cause serious distress. If postnatal depression isn’t treated, the condition can become worse over time, so it is always best to err on the side of caution and speak to someone as soon as possible.
Often someone who is suffering from postnatal depression will experience more than one or all of the above symptoms. The symptoms will normally last for at least 2 weeks and continue on for quite some time. If you think you or someone you know might be suffering, seek professional help. Even if you don’t have PND, psychologists are in a great position to support you with what is an incredibly difficult transition.
There are many avenues of support and it is important to know you are not alone. PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia) operates Australia’s National Helpline for individuals and their families to recover from postnatal depression. Lysn offers online video sessions with psychologists, which can be done from the comfort of your own home.