Postpartum depression is a relatively common psychiatric condition that affects 10 to 20% of all women after childbirth. Diagnosis is made once the mother experiences the typical signs and symptoms of depression for more than two weeks postpartum. These would include despondency, frequent crying, lack of energy and appetite, weight loss, insomnia, inability to experience enjoyment, apprehensiveness or guilt, fixation on suicide or death, and inappropriately negative or harmful thoughts towards the newborn.
Once clinical signs of depression are noted, it is vital to seek medical help immediately. After the diagnosis is confirmed, a person’s ability to cope with postpartum depression would be dependent on her outlook, the availability of a social support system, the severity of her depression, and accessibility to psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy.
The individual will be unable to cope with postpartum depression unless she finally accepts the diagnosis. The earlier she accepts the diagnosis, the more amenable she will be to treatment. Early treatment has been associated with better prognosis, while failure to receive treatment or inadequate treatment, may lead to worsening relationships with the infant and/or partner, increases the risk of morbidity for both the mother and infant, and compromises the infant’s social and educational development.
To give the individual hope and motivation, it is important to remind her that postpartum depression typically resolves within a few months of onset. Once motivated, she may cultivate health-seeking behavior that promotes compliance to her treatment regimen and follow up consults with her physician. This will ensure that she regularly participates in psychotherapy and/or receives optimal doses of antidepressant medications. In addition, a proactive individual will make an effort take better care of herself, in spite of her depression. She keeps herself adequately nourished, properly groomed, and well-rested. She avoids spending time alone, actively seeks the help and support of family and friends, and endeavors to participate in various activities.
The individual’s available social support system plays a crucial role in helping her cope with postpartum depression. Her partner, family members and friends can relieve her of some of her emotional, psychological and physical burdens, while simultaneously encouraging her to adhere to her treatment regimen. Additional aid can also be provided by various counseling and support groups.
The more severe the depression an individual has, the greater her functional impairment, making it more difficult for her to cope. In these cases, access and adherence to both psychotherapy and pharmacologic treatment play a significant role in the patient’s ability to handle postpartum depression. Without proper treatment, both the mother and the child may suffer needlessly, not to mention the rest of the family.