A SILENT CRY FOR HELP WE CANNOT IGNORE
Post-Partum Depression, or Postnatal Depression (PPD) is more common than you may think. Though common, it can be anywhere from undetectable to severe. It is a condition that occurs after the birth of a baby, usually appearing as uncontrollable and rapid mood swings and depression, though may be accompanied by several other symptoms. It usually occurs within the first three months of childbirth, but can take as much as a year to appear.
It should not be confused with the ‘Baby Blues‘, a moderate form of mood changes after childbirth, generally caused by the fatigue and overwhelming new responsibilities.
PPD differs from the more common Baby Blues in many ways. Here are a few ways to tell them apart:
- Loss of appetite – usually mild
- Difficulty concentrating – mild in intensity
- An unexplainable sadness – can be mild to moderate
- Touchiness - can be fairly severe. Fatigue plays a major role
- Insomnia – usually mild and temporary
- Weepy – mild to moderate
- Periods of uncontrollable crying – usually mild
- Mood swings – mild to moderate. Fatigue is a major factor here
- Feelings of inadequacy - mild and temporary
- Anxiety – usually mild
We can compare that to PPD with these symptoms:
- No longer finding pleasure in activities previously enjoyed – moderate to severe
- Lack of motivation – usually severe
- Sleeping more or less than usual – sleeping through the baby’s crying is common
- Little or no interest in the new baby – may be drastic, requiring intervention
- A general feeling of sluggishness – moderate to severe
- Feelings of guilt – usually due to negative thoughts about the baby
- Little or no care about appearance or basic self-care – typically severe
- Feeling worthless – usually severe
- Alternating feelings of wanting to hurt the baby, then worrying about hurting the infant. These thoughts make the affected mother feel guilty about having the feelings at all – the guilt is usually the worst
- Moderate to severe increase or decrease in appetite – typically lack of appetite, causing worry if the infant is breast-fed
- Blaming or having negative thoughts about the child – moderate to severe
- Unpredictable and /or bizarre behaviour – moderate to severe
- Variable and rapid mood swings – mild to severe. In most cases, this is severe, but may not always be the case
Recurrent thoughts of death and suicide – no one can say accurately enough to judge the severity, but this is a major cause for concern regardless how severe. All of these symptoms I have listed here are symptoms gathered from several sources. I complied the list and common severities myself.
The list of possible effects of PPD is not far different from that of someone suffering from severe depression, but unlike common depression, a new baby brings forth a coupled guilt along with it. When a new mother cannot control her raging emotions and general feeling of malaise, the baby is also demanding attention that the mother sometimes does not want to give. It is not the fault of the mother, and she should never be blamed. We should however, be supportive and encouraging, even if it seems futile. Some mothers have experienced intense PPD, and actually harmed their babies, perhaps blaming them for the depression. We know that is unrealistic, but the afflicted mother doe not.
PPD if not treated can lead to Post-Partum Psychosis. In general, most new mothers will not need therapy, though in some cases, it is recommended. If left untreated, Psychosis may occur in the more severe instances. I have touched on this subject in another Post. Here, you can read what the results were for two daughters, on newborn, the other 9 years old. (Opens in new tab). The cause is the rapid change in hormones, during, shortly prior to birth and after giving birth. It is a very intense and rapid change in the woman’s body that can leave anyone feeling ‘out-of-sorts for some time. Couple that with the new and life-altering experience of caring and being responsible for another human life.
In the most serious of cases, we see attempted suicide, and suicide-murder, where the mother will actually kill herself and her baby. These mothers have usually reported having PPD to such a degree that they have thought about physically harming their newborns. Thoughts such as this produce such profound guilt, that the mother believes that the child is better off without them. Unable to live with what they have done, they will take the child’s life and their own simultaneously. One case that was widely publicised was the case of Dr. Suzanne Killinger-Johnson, a Toronto Psychiatrist. August 11 /2000, the 37 year-old mother cuddled her infant son close to her and stepped in front of a Toronto Subway train. This is the worst possible scenario. As a Psychiatrist, one would believe that she could diagnose her problem and seek help. This is not so.
What she suffered was the darkest, deepest side of PPD. It was believed that she stopped taking her medication, fearing it would harm her breast-fed baby. Everyone that knew her thought she had life by the horns. She was a successful Doctor in her practise with a loving husband, mortgage free home and a brand new luxury vehicle. She was beautiful and charming. A new healthy baby would have been the ultimate addition to her life, we would think, but all of this could not prevent the evil that PPD can cause. We cannot know what was going on in Suzanne’s mind in the weeks before her death, but can only imagine the horrors that she suffered. God rest her passionate soul, she became another helpless victim of severe PPD.
Post-Partum Psychosis symptoms are more intense that PPD symptoms, involves the onset of psychotic symptoms, and may include:
- Thought disturbances - unusual patterns in thinking. We may see some off-the-wall remarks that would indicate such thought processes.
- Disorganized speech or behaviour – erratic behaviours and random speech.
- Hallucinations – we may or may not be aware of this, unless the affected person makes us aware. On the other hand, we may see this person act erratically in reaction to such hallucinations.
- Delusions - An affected person has a false belief that is resistant to confrontation with actual facts. They may alter the truth to suit themselves, or be genuinely sincere about the falsehood.
Whether it be Baby Blues, PDD, or the more severe Post-Partum Psychosis, none of these things should be ignored. As a society, we see the ‘horrible’ side of these problems, and ignore the fact that these are real people with real problems. society tends to treat these women as though they were contagious and shuns them. They are looked-upon as though they were abnormal, or lepers that they should run from. Why is this? The answer is simple .. we do not take the time to understand the real issues, or to care. If society remains ignorant of the real facts, they remain ignorant to themselves.
What if this happened to your sister, cousin, aunt, or even your own partner? Would you take the time to care? Take the time to learn about what you do not understand before you pass judgement, or simply pass them by. We are all in this world together, and need to begin to be more understanding of one another. The next time you see a stressed-out mother trying to calm a crying baby, and getting frustrated, do not pass judgement, but rather pass along a knowing smile. She will appreciate the gesture, because you have shown some human compassion.
Many thanks to Ant World for supplying the topic and in-depth discussions on this and many other significant matters.