Whether it is a celebrity disclosing their prison following childbirth or an ad emblazoned across a billboard, Postpartum Depression is far more well known now that it has been in decades past. Despite an increasing understanding of the basics of Postpartum Depression, the disorder’s rates and prevalence are still largely misunderstood—something that can contribute to continued stigmatization and fear of disclosure or diagnosis.
What Is Postpartum Depression?
Postpartum Depression is a depressive disorder uniquely tied to the period following birth. Although Postpartum Depression (PPD) is most commonly diagnosed in women, men can also experience symptoms of PPD, as can anyone who is considered the primary caregiver of a newborn or infant child. Postpartum Depression is identified and diagnosed within the first year of a child’s life. It is differentiated from a typical depression diagnosis in a number of important ways, the most significant of which is the catalyst for depression. While other depressive disorders might have a definitive trigger, such as losing a loved one, depression often begins without warning or a distinct trigger. Postpartum Depression, conversely, is directly related to the birth of a child, and symptoms will not have started before the child’s birth.
Postpartum Depression is one of the most common ailments that accompany a new child’s birth, but the history of Postpartum Depression is far from open and inclusive. While many people are quick to offer support, sympathy, and encouragement for the physical changes both parents experience following a child—lack of sleep, immune depression, and changes to body composition—few are quick to offer support and encouragement regarding the many mental components of becoming a new parent, and the countless ways in which the birth of a child impacts mood and healthy mental processing. Although Postpartum Depression is only one of the many mental effects of having a child, it is simultaneously among the most common and the most thoroughly misunderstood.
Postpartum Symptoms And Risk Factors
Postpartum Depression is similar in its symptoms to most other depressive symptoms, with some small alterations: while all of the original symptoms of depression are typically observable in PPD, there is the addition of other, parent, or child-specific symptoms, which will be a key component in accurate diagnosis. The symptoms of Postpartum Depression include:
- Excessive crying, beyond that of standard postpartum hormonal changes. Crying in the days, weeks, and even months following childbirth is expected due to the experiences involved in parenting and the hormonal shifts that occur in the first year after childbirth. Constant, eternal, or overwhelming crying, however, is not typical.
- Difficulty with or inability to bond with the child. Mentally healthy parents are able to feel a close tie to or bond with their infant child. Parents who are experiencing symptoms of PPD may feel as though they are emotionally distant, cold, or disconnected from their newborn child or children.
- Uncontrolled mood swings. Mood swings characterized by wild changes to emotional or mental states can indicate the presence of PPD. Parents may feel calm and collected in one moment and fly into an absolute rage the next.
- Chronic depressed mood. Depression in PPD can be a constant, ongoing thread running beneath your days, an overwhelming deluge day in and day out, or a rise and fall that seems to crest and fall from day today.
- Appetite changes. Parents with PPD may find themselves losing their appetite and struggling to feed themselves, or may turn to food constantly.
- Withdrawal from relationships.
- Sleep changes. Although some sleep changes are to be expected with a newborn, as newborns only sleep for 2-4 hours at a time, many parents with PPD find themselves wanting to sleep far more than would be expected from the standard lack of sleep or unable to sleep despite ample opportunity to do so.
- Loss of interest in once-loved activities. Parents may no longer find themselves interested in activities they loved prior to pregnancy or birth.
- Fear or conviction of not being a good parent. While many parents worry they will not adequately love or care for their children, these fears may be difficult or even impossible to ration with or eliminate in PPD.
- Thoughts of harming your baby or yourself. This is the symptom that often makes parents feel as though they cannot seek help but is one of the foremost symptoms associated with PPD.
- Feelings of shame, unworthiness, or inadequacy. Feeling ashamed, unworthy, and inadequate are also common in PPD, and parents may struggle to articulate their feelings and needs to others for fear of being “revealed” as bad or unworthy parents.
Although many of these feelings are associated with all forms of depression—feelings of shame, for instance, or persistent depressed mood—there are symptoms of PPD specific to the condition and will play a pivotal role in the accurate diagnosis and treatment of Postpartum Depression. If the symptoms above are still not quite enough to suggest the presence of PPD, an online PPD test can help eliminate confusion.
The risk factors of Postpartum Depression are many, but the most significant risk factor is the presence of depressive or anxiety disorders prior to pregnancy. The many physical and emotional changes associated with pregnancy and childbirth can cause a resurgence of symptoms that were treated or were in remission, leading to the onset of PPD. Postpartum Depression statistics suggest a family history of depression or anxiety can also contribute to the likelihood of developing Postpartum Depression, as can a family history of PPD itself—particularly in a parent or a sibling.
Receiving A Diagnosis
Receiving a diagnosis of Postpartum Depression can be frightening: between inaccurate media portrayals, and a years-old controversy surrounding Postpartum Depression, many parents feel isolated and somehow flawed upon receiving a PPD diagnosis. This can be particularly difficult when it comes time to discuss treatment: for some, treating PPD will be at odds with breastfeeding due to medication restrictions while breastfeeding. For others, treatment will begin and end primarily with psychotherapy. In many cases, mental health professionals recommend a combination approach, utilizing both psychotherapy and medication, to increase the likelihood of improvement or remission.
Fortunately, although a diagnosis can be frightening, a sense of community can be extremely helpful in supporting PPD recovery. Many support groups have been created to support parents who have been diagnosed with Postpartum Depression. Due to increased awareness and public discussion, the term is not as feared or stigmatized as it once was. When treated, PPD has an average successful recovery rate of about 80%, a high number for a mental disorder. This Postpartum Depression percentage demonstrates the importance of awareness of symptoms and eventually reaching out for help. Although Postpartum Depression and psychosis can be extremely dangerous, they are highly treatable disorders and are not cause for great concern.
Postpartum Depression Rates: How Common Is Postpartum Depression?
Postpartum Depression may not receive widespread attention and may not be discussed in the news and other forms of media as a matter of course, but it is a common condition. Some Postpartum Depression statistics (2017 and later) suggest that as many as 1 in 9 women in the U.S. suffers from symptoms of Postpartum Depression. There are varying degrees of PPD in women, ranging from the supposed “baby blues,” which may resolve with time and talk therapy, to the less-common and more severe Postpartum Psychosis, wherein a woman experiences thoughts of self-harm or harming her child. The range of these symptoms means that not all women who are given a PPD diagnosis will display overt and easily recognized symptoms, and diagnosis may take some time or may hinge upon the presence of a past depression or anxiety diagnosis.
Given its prevalence, it may seem strange that PPD is not more widely discussed or that symptoms are not more easily recognized. Unfortunately, while PPD is increasingly common, it still has some stigma attached to it. Despite the presence of continued stigma, PPD is not indicative of a parental failing, a personality flaw, or an inability to parent; instead, PPD acknowledges that some parents experience a great deal of emotional upset, stress, and difficulty following the birth of a child—even when they are loving, attentive, and excited parents.
Postpartum Statistics: Is PPD A Growing Disorder?
As is the case with a slew of mental health issues and qualified disorders, Postpartum Depression prevalence does seem to be on the rise. The increasing understanding of PPD symptoms and the availability of treatment can obscure the data, however, as it begs the question: are PPD rates experiencing an unprecedented rise, or are there more and better-screening methods in place now than ever before? Although there has been some debate about the case, the truth may reside somewhere in the middle: more cases are recognized now than they were in the past, and cases are rising.
Postpartum Depression has an unfortunate history, as it has been famously identified as an indication of a woman’s inability to parent or a parent’s unsuitability for parenthood. An important step in seeking help and subsequently making a recovery is recognizing that this is not the case: PPD is a qualified, quantifiable mental health issue that has roots in environmental triggers and genetic predisposition, neither of which are in any way linked to a character flaw. Many parents feel too afraid to reach out for help upon recognizing the symptoms of PPD, but reaching out for help is the safest and most effective way to improve and manage symptoms of PPD.
The recognition of PPD as a common disorder is important for many reasons, including increasing access to treatment and increasing the recognition of symptoms. Still, it is also important because women have larger numbers of support systems to fall back on, whether through online support groups, therapist-led group therapy, or therapist-formed local support groups. With numbers ranging between 1 in every 7 and 1 in every nine women, PPD is a very real and very serious condition affecting new parents. Far from being linked exclusively to mothers or parents of biological, surviving children, PPD can affect adoptive parents, parents of all genders, and parents of children who were lost in or before childbirth.