We are in a time when mental health is at the forefront of many social and political conversations, where we are actively trying to destigmatize mental illness and normalize its place in society. However, it seems that a particular group of people that are left out of the mental health conversation — new mothers.
Postpartum depression is a specific type of depression that affects new mothers within the first year of giving birth with 1 in 10 in the UK and 1 in 9 in the US. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Provention (CDC), the estimated number of women affected by postpartum depression differs by age and race/ethnicity. Additionally, postpartum depression varies by state and can be as high as 1 in 5.
Many women who experience postpartum depression don’t know that they are experiencing it or those that do are afraid to seek help in fear that they may be perceived to be unfit mothers and having the child taken away from them. In a recent conversation with my mom a few weeks ago, she admitted to me that she experienced PPD for a few months after giving birth to me.
“I was afraid to seek help,” she admitted. “I thought they would take my baby away for being crazy. I eventually dealt with it myself. Talking to my friends and my mom.”
This confession broke my heart as I realized that my mom would never have told me if I had not asked her and I would not have asked her if not for a current school project.
Mothers — new ones, in particular, are expected to be the perfect mother and know what they are doing from the very moment they give birth, and it is because of the high standard that mothers experiencing PPD are unlikely to seek help.
Though many women feel down and anxious during the first few weeks after giving birth — this is known as the ‘baby blues’. However, if those feeling last longer than two weeks, then it might be postpartum depression, of which the symptoms include:
- Feeling that you’re unable to look after your baby
- Problems concentrating and making decisions
- Loss of appetite or increased appetite
- Difficulty bonding with your baby
- Thoughts about hurting your baby
- Thinking about suicide/self-harm
Though PPD itself is very common, there are factors that may put some women at a higher risk of mental illness, during and after pregnancy.
For example, immigrant women are more at risk for postpartum depression as they face unique challenges that may add to the stress of pregnancy as well as receiving inadequate care and are therefore more vulnerable with 20% of immigrant women experience postpartum depressive symptoms in the first year following childbirth. Women with pre-existing mental health issues may be more likely to become ill during pregnancy or after birth too. Additionally, more than half of low-income urban mothers show signs of depression at some point between two weeks and 14 months after giving birth, according to a new study by the University of Rochester Medical Center. Some other risk factors may include:
- Stressful live events.
- Low social support.
- Previous history of depression
- Being a teen mom
- Pregnancy and birth complications
In rare cases, some women develop postpartum psychosis which appears in approximately 1 to 2 per 1000 women after childbirth. Its presentation is often dramatic, with the symptoms showing as early as the first 48 to 72 hours after giving birth.
Like any other mental health issue, it is essential to seek help and whether that be through talking to friends and family like my mom did or seeking professional help, such as therapy or medication.
Just as we aim to normalize the discussion on mental health, it is essential that we include mothers dealing with postpartum depression. I encourage you to ask your moms, aunts, grandmothers, and sister about whether they experienced PPD or not and start a dialogue with them.