Mums, learn to recognise if you have depression

It's important that you are able to recognise the symptoms of postpartum depression in order to deal with it should it occur.

The modern woman has many responsibilities, what with juggling a career and home duties. This type of lifestyle is highly stressful, and since women tend to focus more on caring for others to the extent of neglecting their own needs, this adds significantly to their levels of stress.

All this renders them more vulnerable to mental health problems like depression, which affects around 20 per cent of women over the course of their lifetime, as opposed to 10 per cent for men.

In addition, when a woman has a baby, this triggers powerful emotions such as excitement, joy, fear and anxiety.

All these stressors may trigger postpartum blues (PPB). If left untreated, PPB can deteriorate and result in full blown postpartum depression (PPD).

Currently, the incidence of postpartum depression in Malaysia is low, with an estimated incidence of around 4 per cent.

It is important that you and your spouse are not just aware of PPD. You should also learn how to recognise the signs in order to be prepared to deal with it should it occur.

It's important for everyone to realise that PPD is not a character flaw or weakness. It's simply a complication of giving birth. If you have postpartum depression, prompt treatment can help you manage your symptoms.

PPD can easily lead to social conflicts with family and friends, which in turn may lead to the mother being alienated (or she may alienate herself), thus exacerbating her condition. If there are other children, they will also be affected by their mother's condition, which could lead to negative influences to their psychological and intellectual development.

Rarely, an extreme form of postpartum depression known as postpartum psychosis can develop. Postpartum psychosis is marked by psychotic thoughts, delusions, hallucinations and agitation, which make it difficult for the mother to control any impulse to harm her own self or others (including her own children). One well known case of postpartum psychosis involved a mother from the United States, Andrea Yates, who drowned all five of her children in 2001.

PPD can be dangerous to both baby and mother, with the mother possibly having to deal with thoughts of harming her baby or herself.

In the longer term, the loss of emotional bonding with her baby may have significant consequences.

PPD can affect anyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, age, culture and education, and it certainly doesn't matter whether you are a new mother or have had several children. However, if you have the following factors, then you will be more vulnerable to developing it:

·Lack of emotional or financial support from family/spouse.

·Family history of depression.

·Past history of depression or depression during pregnancy.

·Difficulties in close relationships.

·Sleep deprivation.

·Severe bouts of PPB.

·Work or other personal problems.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that postpartum depression (PPD) is treatable. The first step would be to recognise PPD, then to seek treatment. A simple tool you can use to check for symptoms is called the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS). The total score is calculated by adding together the numbers you circle for each of the 10 questions. Scores above 13 would indicate a depressive illness, but for an actual diagnosis, it is important to see a doctor.

Some of the symptoms include:

·Feeling unable or unwilling to care for your baby.

·Having frequent thoughts about bad things that could happen to your baby.

·Thoughts of hurting your baby.

·Irritability, marked agitation or restlessness.

·Feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness.

·Lack of energy or unexplained fatigue almost every day.

·Prolonged periods of sadness/depression.

·Loss of interest/pleasure in previously enjoyable activities.

·Lowered self-esteem.

·Feelings of self-loathing.

·Suicidal thoughts/talking about ending your life.

·Sleep disturbances.

What can you do if you recognise the tell-tale signs of PPD? It doesn't matter if it's your wife, your sister, your friend, or anyone else for that matter; what's important is for you to take the initiative to help encourage them to seek professional help to ease their suffering.

Get as much social support as possible, either from your spouse, family members, or even friends. Try exercising when you can as your body will release endorphins - these chemicals will engender positive feelings in your body.

Remember not to try doing everything on your own; get others to help out. This will go a long way to helping you ease your stress levels.

Limit your intake of alcohol and caffeine, and be sure to keep a close eye on your mental and emotional health. Also, try getting as much rest as possible to avoid sleep deprivation, which could worsen the situation.

If you do suspect that something is amiss, first consult your local GP to rule out any other medical conditions (that may have PPD-like symptoms) as they may have a secondary effect of causing depression.

The best thing you can do is to get yourself checked by a mental health professional to get a definitive diagnosis to your condition.