Postpartum depression is a condition that affects new parents, and can develop up to a year after birth. Postpartum depression is typically associated with new mothers, though any new parent can experience symptoms of the illness. This does not pertain solely to biological parents, as those who adopt may also deal with postpartum depression. These people have traditional feelings of depression, like persistent sadness, guilt, etc. They may also have the constant worry that they are an unfit parent, and may experience thoughts of self-harm or harm to the baby. There are ways to effectively deal with postpartum depression, three of which will be outlined below.
What is Postpartum Depression?
While it is not uncommon for some people to experience a short lasting, self-alleviating low mood after the birth of a child (referred to as “baby blues”), some people’s symptoms persist for longer than usual and are more severe. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, 10-20% of women suffer with postpartum depression. The rate of occurrence is similar for men, at 10%, says PsychCentral.com.
New parents with postpartum depression exhibit symptoms such as negative self perception and a lack of self-worth. Similarly, they may have low self-esteem and frequent sadness that cannot be relieved by normal measures. People with new babies do not get proper sleep as it is, which may be made worse for those with postpartum depression, as it can lead to sleeping irregularities. People may be irritable or withdrawn, have trouble focusing or formulating thoughts, and may no longer find joy in activities that they once found pleasurable. As mentioned, some people with postpartum depression have thoughts of hurting themselves or the baby.
Three Ways to Deal With Postpartum Depression
Psychoactive medication is the first line of defense for treating acute postpartum depression symptoms. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a common type of antidepressant medication that is used to treat signs of depression. SSRIs work by allowing serotonin – a brain chemical that plays a role in mood regulation – to remain in the brain for a longer period of time than usual. This helps to control mood and lessen the likelihood of extreme emotional lows (when caused by chemical factors). There are many different types of SSRIs, so it may take trial and error before the most effective medication is found. These drugs are only available by prescription.
Apart from medication, psychotherapy is another useful tool for dealing with postpartum depression. There are various types of psychotherapy, including cognitive-behavioral therapy and family therapy. Both of these may help people cope with symptoms of postpartum depression. Cognitive-behavioral therapy allows people to better understand the way they interpret incoming stimuli, and how they react to it. By doing this, new parents can recognize negative thinking and behaviors, and begin to build new, healthy coping mechanisms. Family therapy gives people an outlet to express and understand issues within the familial unit, and learn the best ways to work collectively towards a positive goal.
Deep Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
Deep transcranial magnetic stimulation (dTMS) is another tool that may be useful for helping people deal with postpartum depression. DTMS is a therapy that uses electromagnetic pulses to stimulate centers deep within the brain. This is done when there is believed to be an imbalance in brain activity that is causing harmful symptoms. The electromagnetic waves are used to rectify such imbalances, with the goal of lessening ill effects. The procedure is non-invasive and pain free; pulses are delivered by way of a helmeted coil placed on the head. A meta-analysis of 17 studies found that, of depressed people treated with high frequency dTMS, an average of 60% responded to some degree, and 29% reached full remission, notes The Journal of Affective Disorders. Positive results occurred more when patients were also on antidepressant medication. As the symptoms of postpartum depression do not differ from regular depression (aside from the added thoughts of harm to the child), deep transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy may be beneficial for those who have it.
Postpartum depression can impact the mental, emotional and physical well-being of new parents, regardless of whether there is a biological link to the baby. The symptoms of the illness can make it difficult to feel connected to the infant, which may lead to feelings of inadequacy as a parent or other serious consequences. There are management techniques people can utilize to deal with postpartum depression in a healthy way. Medication, psychotherapy and deep transcranial magnetic stimulation may help lessen the symptom severity for affected people. Each person will respond differently to treatment, which is why people should ensure they have a team of healthcare professionals to help build a customized therapeutic plan.