What is Postnatal Depression?

Postnatal Depression is a depressive illness which affects between 10 to 15% of new mothers. Many more are never diagnosed with this condition, which can become a very significant issue in the functioning of a family. It is often poorly managed by health care providers, and can be misunderstood by the community and dismissed as “just the baby blues” or “tiredness.” It is common for sufferers to feel very alone and unable to explain just how they feel and why it is so difficult to endure.

Sad woman

Why is it so common?

Western society is increasingly fractured and isolated, with a decreased sense of local community and shared care. Depression is common in our culture, for reasons not clearly understood, but partly due to the way we live. The birth of a baby is often an overwhelming time for both parents, especially when also faced with the expectations and demands of a fast-paced culture that often judges people by their apparent productivity and appearance.

Before parenthood, people’s identities are often based on their roles and responsibilities in life; work, friendship circles, hobbies and interests. After a baby arrives, this often changes dramatically, sometimes in unexpected ways, and for many, the huge change in the pace of life and the loss of control can be very difficult to deal with. “The burden of conscious responsibility with no let up and the unusual and unexpected degree of fatigue can make a mother feel desperate about whether she can survive and how she will manage.” (Kennell & Klaus) This is the role that community used to play; supporting and carrying each other’s burdens as part of a committed and close-knit group of people who lived together, an experience that few parents enjoy in the West today.

What does it feel like?

Common words used to describe PND are guilt and inadequacy.

“The worst part was the guilt I felt about crying every day when I had a beautiful new daughter.”

“It isn’t about not loving your baby but about feeling overwhelmed with responsibility and unable to cope.”

“My head can feel empty and I have no thoughts.”

“It is just so hard to face another day of feeling totally unlike myself, missing my old life, unable to enjoy this new one.”

Fathers suffer from depression after birth too.

“The first few weeks were the hardest and I would just sit and cry. I felt like this shouldn’t happen to me, I should just be taking it on the chin and getting on with it. But the truth is, I felt alone and without the support of my wife, I would’ve been a lot worse.”

Caring for people with PND is hard.

“PND is the scariest and loneliest place on the planet and puts a terrible strain on the whole family.”

“My husband felt helpless because he knew something was wrong but I wouldn’t admit it and shut him out. All he could do was try to look after me and be there when I finally admitted it. It caused a lot of irrational arguments.”

Click here for information on help for PND.

by Dr. Rosie Knowles – our resident GP.

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