Bringing a child into a family, either through natural birth or adoption should be an incredibly happy time for parents. However, many expectant and new parents experience mental health conditions that plague an otherwise joyous time. Postnatal depression is a mental health condition that impacts more men and women than most realise.
Throughout the world, an estimated 10 to 15% of women suffer from postpartum depression or related mental health disorders, as well as 10% of new fathers. However, some statistics shed light on the fact that these numbers could be greatly skewed, as millions of new parents face the challenges of postnatal depression without ever receiving a proper diagnosis.
The prevalence of postnatal mental health conditions requires the attention of new parents, their friends and family members, as well as the medical community. Leaving depression or anxiety disorders before or after birth untreated can lead to devastating outcomes for both parents and their children.
Raising awareness of postpartum depression is an essential part of improving support and accurate, timely diagnosis of the condition so that parents can lead a full, healthy life for themselves and their children.
Recognising the Warning Signs
One of the concerns surrounding postpartum depression among new parents revolves around the broad warning signs and symptoms many face. According to NHS, postpartum mental health warning signs come in a variety of forms, with some of the most common including:
- Extreme exhaustion
- Trouble sleeping at night
- Long-term feeling of sadness or loneliness
- Lack of energy and motivation
- An inability to concentrate or focus
- Failing to bond with a new child
- An overall lack of enjoyment
- Thoughts of harming a child
- Withdrawing from social interactions
- Tension headaches or stomach pains
Any combination of these symptoms can be warning signs of postpartum depression, but there are other mental health conditions that can arise for similar reasons. New or expectant parents may develop prenatal or antenatal depression, which takes place before the child arrives. Some may also experience pre- or postnatal anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In rare cases, postnatal psychosis may develop, leading to severe mental anguish and, in some cases, fatalities. Because of the wide range of symptoms and the potential for long-term, negative outcomes of untreated mental health disorders, new parents need to speak with their doctor to receive a diagnosis sooner rather than later after experiencing symptoms.
The Reasons for Misdiagnosis
Diagnosis pre- or postnatal depression or similar mental health conditions surrounding the birth or adoption of a child is not as straightforward as many might expect. According to a group of medical negligence solicitors in the UK, misdiagnosis or no diagnosis of postpartum depression is common.
It is estimated that nearly half of new parents with the mental health condition go undiagnosed altogether, leaving them with mild to severe symptoms for an extended period of time. Part of the reason behind failed diagnosis is the stigma attached to mental health conditions broadly speaking.
Many parents feel shame in sharing they are experiencing symptoms, and they fear if they are diagnosed, their child may be taken away from them. Compounding these common concerns among parents is a lacking understanding of the conditions and their causes among healthcare systems.
Many medical providers focus on the well-being of the child after birth or adoption, not the health status of the parents. Shifting the focus in this regard may help with earlier diagnosis of postpartum mental health issues, giving parents a fighting chance.
Treatment and Ongoing Support
Fortunately, the millions of individuals who are properly diagnosed with pre- or postnatal mental health conditions have an opportunity to get treatment to decrease or altogether eliminate symptoms. Some purport the benefits of self-help in this regard, suggesting that a shift in focus toward positive activities with other parents, the child, or alone can help ease feelings of depression and loneliness. Self-help treatments may also include taking breaks from caring for the child to recharge and reset.
It is important to note that self-help solutions are only fit for those suffering from mild symptoms. Those with more severe postpartum mental health conditions need to reach out to their doctor for recommended treatment options. These may include psychotherapy to help talk through feelings of depression or anxiety. Antidepressants may also be prescribed for those who struggle with their symptoms persistently.
While getting the right diagnosis is crucial to a new parent’s overall health, receiving ongoing support is key. There are several resources available to new parents, as well as their friends and family, that focus on education of pre- and postpartum mental health issues.
Some organisations offer local support groups as well as telephone and virtual counseling and guidance for those living with depression and anxiety. Tapping into these resources soon after symptoms are recognised as postpartum depression can help new parents and their loved ones get on the path toward effective treatment.