Perinatal Depression: Behind the Smiling Mask

Often women who are suffering from Perinatal Depression are described as if they are wearing a “smiling mask”. To the outside worlds everything appears ok, yet behind closed doors the tears start to fall and the feelings of despair and hopelessness can be intense.

Perinatal Depression is a term used to describe both prenatal (or antenatal) depression and postnatal depression.

That is, depression around the time of giving birth is seen to be on a continuum. Often women start to experience depression during pregnancy yet may not be diagnosed with prenatal depression until after the baby is born (postnatal depression). It is important that treatment happens early on so being aware of the symptoms of depression is important. Especially in first time mums, prenatal depression may be hard to pick up as they often put their fatigue and sense of feeling unwell, down to the pregnancy itself.

Perinatal Depression does not discriminate – anyone can get it. Often women say to me how they don’t understand why they feel like this when they have a lovely home, a supportive husband and family and a beautiful new baby. However, Perinatal Depression is an illness and just like other illnesses, it can affect anyone. In fact the statistics tell us that it can affect 1 in 7 women in the postnatal period and 1 in 10 women antenatal period. This is probably an underestimate as those are just the reported statistics. It can also affect men. Men are more likely to be diagnosed with the illness if their partner has it.

Signs and Symptoms of Depression:

—  Sleep problems
—  Appetite changes
—  Panic attacks
—  No energy
—  Decreased libido
—  Physical ailments (e.g. headaches)
—  Extreme fatigue/hyperactive
—  Anxiety/agitation/irritability/anxiety re baby
—  Persistent sadness
—  No pleasure or joy
—  Thoughts of death/suicide/harm to baby
—  Obsessive thoughts
—  Guilt/blame/anger
—  Lack of motivation
—  Cognitive difficulties – unable to make decisions
—  Teary
—  Overwhelmed
—  Loss of confidence
—  Avoidance and withdrawal
—  Fear of being alone
—  Fear of going out
—  Dependant on others
—  Strained relationships
—  Loss of wider social networks

Most women who are diagnosed with Perinatal Depression usually have 4 or more of these symptoms present on most days over a period longer than 2 weeks. The symptoms interrupt their usual way of functioning socially, at home or in the workplace.

If you are feeling unwell or suspect you may have Perinatal Depression, the best way to start recovery is a visit to the GP. Recovery usually also involves counselling and staying connected with friends, other mums or support groups. Sometimes medication is required for more moderate to severe depression.

About the Author

Melanie Strang is a counsellor who specialises in working with new and expectant parents. She completed a Bachelor of Medicine and worked as a Medical Practitioner in General Medicine, Psychiatry and Public Health. She has practised as a Registered Doctor in several Psychiatric Hospitals around Melbourne. Melanie has since completed a Diploma of Counselling.