Postnatal depression is one of those dirty little secrets that no one likes to talk about.
If you’re a new mother and experiencing postnatal depression (also called PND), you may be feeling a sense of shame, or you might think it means you’re not a ‘good enough’ mother because you’re depressed.
And this is one of the awful things about PND. Because it has so much stigma surrounding it, many new mothers are reluctant to address the issue head on.
Thankfully organisations such as PANDA and Postnatal Depression Awareness Week are working to address the stigma and raise awareness in the community about what postnatal depression is and how to seek help.
What are the signs of postnatal depression?
Some of the most common symptoms of postnatal depression that can begin anywhere from 24 hours to several months after delivery include:
- Disturbed sleep patterns that are unrelated to your new baby
- An increase or decrease in your appetite
- Feeling sad for no reason at all, or feeling like you want to cry, but can’t
- Feelings of being overwhelmed and out of control
- Feelings of agitation, overwhelm and irritability and thinking you can’t cope
- Feeling excessively anxious and worrying patterns that become all-consuming
- Finding you’re obsessing about negative thoughts or imagining terrible outcomes
- Withdrawing from family and friends and struggling to ask for help or support
- Losing your concentration or experiencing loss of memory
- Irrational feelings of guilt and thinking you aren’t good enough
- Loss of confidence and self-esteem where you start to constantly doubt yourself
- Feelings of suicide or suicidal impulses or fantasies about hurting yourself and/or the baby
Belinda Horton, CEO of PANDA (Post and Antenatal Depression Association) says, “Perinatal depression is different for everyone. It has many faces, so we all need to understand what postnatal depression can look like, regularly check-in on new parents and contact PANDA if new parents are showing signs of anxiety or depression.”
She states, “Perinatal depression is not a women’s issue. It affects whole families and without treatment, it can change the lives of families forever. However, help is available and early intervention and the right support leads to a faster recovery.”
How postnatal depression affects relationships
There are a number of ways that PND can have an impact on your relationship. Here are some of the more common ones:
- Loss of intimacy and closeness with your partner. It’s only natural that one of the first things to happen when you’re struggling with PND is that it affects your intimate connection with your partner. Many couples experience a natural decline in sexual intimacy after the birth of a child, but this is even more prominent when one of you is feeling depressed or down. Emotional intimacy can also be compromised as you struggle to get a handle on what’s happening and why these feelings are coming up.
- Increased conflict and disagreements. As you struggle as a couple to come to terms with the depression, this can often show up through an increase in fighting or disagreements. You may find yourself disagreeing over parenting issues, or maybe you’re fighting more than usual. Often this conflict will feel unproductive and not lead anywhere, with unresolved fights becoming the norm.
- Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. These are very common feelings, not only for the partner that is experiencing PND, but also the partner who is not depressed. Watching your mate struggle with feelings of depression can evoke a strong sense of powerlessness and hopelessness in the healthy partner. And when you’re both feeling this, it’s potentially damaging for you individually as well as your relationship.
- Increase of stress and pressure on your relationship. Stress can be very damaging for your relationship, so when you’re both feeling stressed, it makes it harder to find your way out of the maze of complex and distressing feelings. Stress over time then starts to lower your overall resilience and immunity, leading to more fighting and sickness.
- Increase in health-related issues. Add all this up and you have a perfect storm for the emergence of health-related issues. As your stress levels increase, you’re likely fighting more in your relationship and your overall emotional reactivity is higher. This then means your immunity can become compromised, leading to illness and disease.
Tips for helping your relationship survive postnatal depression
It’s important that you take a proactive approach in dealing with PND if it starts to show up in your relationship. Here are some things to consider:
- Seek help early. If you suspect there’s a problem, early intervention will always result in a better outcome. There are many support services for new mothers, but start by talking to a trusted G.P. who can then refer you to the appropriate services or allied health professionals for further investigation.
- Keep the lines of communication open. The most important thing to do in your relationship is to continue to talk about the difficulties as they arise. Through communicating with your partner, you can work as a team and attack the symptoms of depression head-on. It’s also essential you let your partner know what you’re experiencing, so they know how to best help you.
- Expand your support networks. Don’t suffer alone. Reach out to friends, family and professionals to make sure you’ve got a solid base of support for yourself while you struggle with PND. The more you can take even small actions, like talking to a trusted friend on the phone, the less alone and isolated you will feel.
- Take time to nurture and support your relationship. Although you’re likely feeling sleep-deprived from adjusting to your newborn, make sure you’re taking quality time to be with your partner. It doesn’t have to be a date night, as a 15 minute coffee in the sun talking about how things are going can be very valuable at this stage.
- Reduce your stress. Remove any stressors from your life that don’t need to be there. You want your life and environment to be stress-free at this time, so you can focus on recovery and regaining your mental health. You may need to be firm about your boundaries with people in your life that are causing you stress, to ensure the best possible recovery from postnatal depression.
Since 2003, Clinton Power has helped thousands of couples and individuals as a counsellor and psychotherapist in private practice in Sydney and online in Australia. Clinton regularly comments in the media on issues of relationships and has appeared on Channel 7, The Sydney Morning Herald, and ABC Radio. Clinton’s eBook, 31 Days to Build a Better Relationship is available through his website or Amazon. Click here to take Clinton’s relationship checkup quiz to find out how well you know your partner.