We know the rate of postpartum depression is quite high, and that it affects approximately 1/7 moms and 1/10 dads. The symptoms can vary from uncontrollable tears, rage, lack of appetite, and endless worries. It is meant to be a beautiful time where you build a bond with your newborn, but this emotional roller coaster doesn’t allow you to nurture this relationship. So, what gets in the way of seeking treatment for postpartum depression (PPMD)?
When it comes to accessing help, there are five common misconceptions that create a barrier:
1) Postpartum depression is a “mom” issue.
False! Firstly, there is no way to live with a family member who has mental health struggles and not become affected in some way or form. Mental health has a ripple effect. Secondly, the impact of adjusting to life with a baby is equally stressful for dads, adopted parents, and caregivers. In fact, these other support persons can also experience postpartum depression. PPMD can affect anyone, irrespective of age, race, culture, education or financial status.
2) If I ask for help, they will take my baby away.
This comment gets whispered often, and my heart breaks every time I hear it. I think the Children’s Aid Society has done an incredible job over the years in supporting children in staying safe. At the same time, I think our history has been marred by CAS experiences that have created caution and distrust.
As a social worker, I can clarify that my duty to report is solely in situations where there is genuine threat to a baby. Postpartum parents struggle with their own emotions and this, in turn, makes it hard for them to take care of their child. The intent is not to be physically harmful towards their child. In fact, the primary stressors I witness in postpartum parents are guilt and insecurity. They are struggling because they worry of not being a good enough parent. There is guilty about not spending enough time with their baby or their loved ones. These caregivers stress about how they cannot provide for their child as well as they would like. None of these worries are a concern about child safety. Instead, this is a parent who is expressing suffering, and they should be treated with compassion.
3) I can’t have postpartum depression; I’m not crying or sad all the time.
Depression is often described as a heavy cloud that hangs over us, making it hard to feel motivated, enjoy life, or be ourselves. It’s understandable to dismiss symptoms of PPMD because it doesn’t show up in the same ways as depression. With PPMD, there are a variety of different symptoms that can be seen, including:
- scary of unwanted thoughts
- flashbacks/trauma about the pregnancy or delivery
- sleep troubles
- appetite troubles
- lack of energy
- fear of being along
- fear of being separated from baby
- concentration difficulties
4) I won’t get better or This is how parenting is supposed to be.
Postpartum depression is treatable! With effective support, parents can recover. Moreover, treatment is more efficient when support is offered sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, many parents assume “feeling bad” is normal during postpartum. There is an adjustment period involved when a baby comes into the home. However, if the stress in adjusting is overwhelming, and if it does not get better with time, it warrants some extra support. Others may make flippant remarks like, “get used to it.” It doesn’t mean your emotional struggles are any less real, nor should they minimized.
5) I didn’t think I had it. I was fine for the first few months.
Postpartum depression does not show up right away, and so it can often be missed. Postpartum Support International recommends that we assess for perinatal depression throughout the pregnancy (every trimester), as well as at 1, 2, and 6 months postpartum. There has also been new research indicating the benefits in assessing at 9 and 12 months as parents begin to return to work, and they face another large adjustment period. Because some parents may not have noticed clear indicators of stressors before this time, it is easy to assume that what they are experiencing is not postpartum depression.
Fellow caregivers, if you are struggling with PPMD, know that it is not your fault. There is no single cause for having PPMD, and there are a variety of genetic and environmental factors that increase your vulnerabilities. If you, or your loved ones are needing support, please reach out.