Tue | Sep 26, 2017

It is real! - Dealing with postpartum depression in the family

Published:Saturday | October 29, 2016 | 10:00 AMCecelia Campbell Livingston

Today you were far away and I didn't ask you why

What could I say, I was far away

You just walked away and I just watched you

What could I say

 

Her husband is filled with joy at the birth of the latest addition to the family but that joy seems to be one-sided. The man is now filled with doubts on whether it was a mistake adding to the union as his wife seems to be a constant state of depression.

This is just one of the signs of postpartum depression which according to Francine Derby of Safe Space Ja, a newly formed organisation to help persons with mental issues.

"Postpartum depression is a severe, chronic form of clinical depression that occurs after the birth of a child. Contrary to popular belief, both new mothers and fathers can face the challenge of postpartum depression, though it is definitely more common in women," she explained.

Unfortunately, she said, many do not understand the symptoms of this illness while some pass it off as 'baby blues'.

For Derby, every new parent will experience 'baby blues' as they get accustomed to the challenges that come with a newborn. She pointed out that it's normal to feel overwhelmed, sad or inadequate.

"However, this usually passes within two weeks of birth. Postpartum depression has more severe symptoms and is far more long-lasting. It often involves feelings of worthlessness and anxiety about the new role as a parent. You may feel constantly exhausted, dissatisfied and empty, while being unable to enjoy activities that you once found enjoyable," she said.

Among its other symptoms are decreased sex drive and a general lack of energy.

Pulling away from friends and family members as well as even the baby can also occur.

"If these symptoms persist for several weeks, or even months, postpartum depression is a likely diagnosis. In more rare and severe cases, postpartum depression can interfere with baby's development. A parent may be inconsistent with childcare, feedings and administration of medication. In even rarer and more severe cases, postpartum depression can develop into postpartum psychosis," she said, pointing out that this is when the mother can be a danger both to herself and the child.

Derby further stated that Jamaicans are not properly educated on this form of mental illness and, as a result, these kinds of illnesses are placed on the back burner.

"Postpartum depression specifically is not something that is widely discussed. Clinics, hospitals and health-care centres do not place major emphasis on postpartum depression. It is understandable that this mental illness may fall to the wayside, since so much information has to be passed on to a new parent," she said.

Derby stressed, however, that greater effort should be made to educate the general public so that the signs can be recognised and necessary help given.

 

At greater risk

 

Pregnant women with a history of depression are at greater risk of developing this illness, according to Derby. She also pointed out that those persons with bipolar disorder also have increased risk of developing postpartum depression. Additionally, problems in your relationship with your significant other may increase the risk.

"Mothers who have difficulty breastfeeding may begin to feel inadequate about their ability to adequately take care of their baby. These feelings can develop into postpartum depression. Having a weak support system can lead to a parent feeling overwhelmed, which can quickly develop into full-blown depression. Additionally, if the pregnancy was unwanted, this can increase the possibility of postpartum depression," shared Derby.

All is not lost and mothers can help themselves by reaching out to their doctors, if they suspect they may be battling this illness according to Derby.

She stressed that there should be no embarrassment or fear in seeking help.

"Your doctor can recommend a therapist or psychiatrist who will be able to help you through this difficult time. Speaking to a trusted friend or family member can also be extremely beneficial," she said.

The alternative of not dealing with the illness and leaving the symptoms untreated will have serious implications on the entire family.

The baby may be at a disadvantage because the parent is unable to adequately provide child care. The parent may become distant, which can cause a rift in the home and with the extended family. In more extreme cases, postpartum depression can develop into postpartum psychosis, which can lead to the baby being physically harmed.

In reaching out, Derby said that fathers should pay close attention to their partners and to changes in their behaviour.

"Be understanding and sensitive during this time. A strong support system is necessary, so be sure to constantly reassure her and offer help and support whenever possible. Be open to conversation and never disregard or invalidate her feelings. Understand that postpartum depression is very real and be mindful of your role as a partner," she said.

familyandreliion@gleanerjm.com