A little bit about Postnatal Depression (PND)
Postnatal Depression, commonly referred to as PND, is a mental illness that some women experience after the birth of a child. The true statistics are hard to find, as many cases go unreported, but it's estimated that somewhere between 1 in 10 and 1 in 5 new mothers are affected. PND generally sets in 4-6 weeks after the birth but it can also occur months after the baby is born. It is not to be confused with the 'baby blues,' these are normal feelings that the majority of mothers experience for a few days or weeks after the birth that subsequently subside. Postnatal Depression is a very different beast, it is a long-lasting deeper depression and it can carry some distressing thoughts and feelings with it. The main symptoms include;
- a persistent feeling of sadness or depression
- a loss of interest in the world around you and no longer enjoying things that used to give you pleasure
- a lack of energy and feeling tired
- disturbed sleep (finding it hard to fall asleep or suffering from insomnia)
- difficulty concentrating and making decisions
- low self-confidence
- a loss of appetite or overeating
- feeling agitated or on edge
- feeling apathetic (as if you can't be bothered)
- feelings of guilt and self-blame
- hostile thoughts or feelings towards your baby
- thoughts of suicide or self-harm
How PND affected me
I struggled with Postnatal Depression after the birth of my first child, Amy. Around 3 months after she was born I was feeling very depressed and struggled to form a bond with her so I went to see my GP who put me on a course of anti-depressants for around 3 months. The second time round, after Liam's birth, I knew that I was suffering with PND again and actually spoke to a Nurse in the SCBU about it. She told me to 'pull myself together for Liam' and that 'I'll be fine once we all go home.' Ignoring the obvious negligence (in my opinion) of a medical professional telling a woman who has a history of depression and PND (she was aware of this) and who thinks she is suffering from it again to 'suck it up,' her attitude completely put me off seeking any help at all. I felt guilty enough that he was born so early and that I hadn't realised I was in labour in time to be able to stop the birth and guilty that I was struggling to do his cares because my emotions were getting in the way without having to admit that I didn't feel for him like I should do as well.
I honestly thought that it would get better when we were all at home but I was very wrong. Instead I tumbled into a very deep depression which has taken almost a full year, and counting, of medication to pull myself out of. I finally sought help for Postnatal Depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which I'll come to in a bit, when Liam was almost 11 months old. Way too late! Thankfully the majority of medical professionals are nothing like the Nurse I spoke to at Hospital; my GP put me on a course of anti-depressants and referred me for some Cognitive Behavioural Therapy which I started a few weeks later due to the severity of my symptoms and the length of time I'd suffered from them.
In hindsight it's very easy to say that I was silly and that I should have sought help sooner but at the time I become so wrapped up in guilt and embarrassment over how I was feeling, especially towards my new baby, that I was frightened to speak to anybody about it. I was worried they would react in a similar way to the SCBU Nurse. My biggest fear was that Liam would be taken away from me, something I'm sure many sufferers of PND can relate with.
A little bit about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD for short, is an anxiety disorder that can develop in response to witnessing or being involved in a traumatic event. The disorder is traditionally linked to people who have seen military action but it can develop in any situation where a person feels extreme fear, horror or helplessness and feels that their life, or the life of another involved in the event, is in danger. PTSD is estimated to affect roughly 30% of people who experience a traumatic situation and usually develops within a month of the event. The symptoms are severe and persistent enough to have an impact on the person's day-to-day life and include;
- involuntarily and vividly reliving the event through flashbacks, nightmares and/or repetitive and intrusive images and sensations
- feelings of isolation and guilt
- feeling anxious, on edge, irritable and prone to angry outbursts
- problems sleeping (falling asleep and insomnia)
- difficulty concentrating
- avoidance of certain people, situations or circumstances that could act as a 'trigger' to remind you of the event
How PTSD affected me
I experienced, what felt like, almost constant intrusive thoughts and images of Liam's birth and his early days in Hospital. The images seemed to 'replay' through my head throughout the day as if they were on a slide-show. I also suffered from flashbacks (see this post about what it's like when I experience a flashback) and tried to avoid anything that could trigger one, including places, people and sounds. At times even holding Liam to feed him would take me back to the Hospital with a rush of images and sensations and noises and it began to intrude on my bonding with him. I became very irritable and struggled to concentrate on anything because of the constant 'noise' in my head. I had trouble sleeping and, coupled with Postnatal Depression, it became a very difficult time for me.
I finally sought help from my Doctor when Liam was 11 months old and he referred me for some Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). The idea behind this kind of therapy is that you try to change the way your mind views something by adapting a negative way of thinking into a more positive one (more info here). During my treatment I also had some 'exposure therapy' where I relived, in a controlled environment, small sections of the trauma. We discussed them in great detail and assessed each part that I found distressing until I felt less, and occasionally no, anxiety about it. The theory behind this type of therapy is that the traumatic event is too large for your brain to process in one go, hence the flashbacks etc, so if you break it down into smaller more manageable chunks your brain can work through and 'file' them effectively.
Liam is almost 2 and I will admit that even after medication and treatment I still have my 'off' days, although they are becoming further apart. I have times where I struggle, especially with PTSD, but I would say that I'm past the worst and the majority of the time it doesn't affect me. I still try to avoid certain situations (especially involving Hospitals or medical TV programmes) as they can trigger flashbacks but the intrusive thoughts are gone and I'm much more like myself again.
Where to get help and information
I would urge any Parent (Dad's can develop Postnatal Depression and PTSD too) to seek help from your GP immediately if you think you are suffering from either of the mental illnesses I've mentioned or if you display several of the symptoms listed. I left it way too long to seek help and it took me a very long time to recover; the sooner you speak to your GP the sooner you will start to feel better. There is nothing to feel embarrassed, guilty or worried about and there are many different treatments, medicated and non-medicated, that can be tailored to suit what is best for you.
Also check out Mind for more information on mental illness. They are a fantastic mental health charity that aim to provide advice and support to anyone suffering from mental illness.
Home-Start are a brilliant family support charity to contact if you are feeling isolated, having difficulty coping and/or are nervous of going out of the house on your own with your child(ren).
I'd also like to say that I'm very happy to answer any questions that you might have :)