Post Natal Depression- When Ideals Don’t Match Reality
By Clinical Psychologist, Erika Fiorenza
“Having children makes you no more a parent than having a piano makes you a pianist”.
– Michael Levine
Becoming a parent is one of the biggest life changes a person can undergo. There are changes to their routine, lifestyle, and relationships, ever while parent and child learn together how to do almost everything. And yet, we often expect to effortlessly and naturally slip into this role.
There are a number of unrealistic expectations and misperceptions that can perpetuate distress in the postnatal period. Postnatal Depression Awareness Week is a great time to highlight some of the myths that new parents can get caught up with. Some of these common thoughts can include:
“This should be the happiest time of my life”
“I should know what to do”
“I wouldn’t have these thoughts if I was a good mother”
“If I’m not doing well, I’m not a good mother”
“My life is good….I shouldn’t be feeling depressed”
When these ‘ideals’ don’t seem to match up to reality, mothers (and fathers) can experience feelings of guilt, shame, and helplessness.
In addition, the stigma connected to even expressing any dissatisfaction or difficulty with parenting can hold people back from seeking help, leading to further feelings of isolation and helplessness. We all have the tendency to ‘compare upwards’. It is common for new mothers to compare themselves and their baby’s development to that of their peers and conclude that “everyone else is doing well”.
Women with postnatal distress that present for therapy can describe a number of these unhelpful thoughts. When they become ‘entangled’ or ‘caught up’ with these thoughts they find themselves moving further away from the parent, partner, or person they want to be. There are a number of studies suggesting that cognitive processes (such as those in postnatal depression) can impact on a mother’s capacity to respond to her baby and the outside world (Stein et al., 2012).
In therapy, we work on normalising these thoughts, and help people learn skills to manage their thinking, such that it has less influence over their mood and actions. In addition to dealing with painful thoughts, therapy for postnatal disorders may also include dealing with painful feelings, urges and sensations.
Another critical part of therapy is getting back into activity. Low motivation (one of the main symptoms of depression) leads to doing less, enjoying less, and consequently feeling worse.
It’s hard to feel ‘normal’ when we don’t do normal things
If ‘normal’ is having contact with friends or doing daily activities like cooking a meal or going to the shop, then this is where we start. In therapy we work on helping people identify what it is they value. Identifying values such as ‘self-care’, ‘challenge’ or ‘acceptance’ can help parents reconnect with what is important, and help clarify goals for moving forward.
There is a lot of great information online about the signs and symptoms of postnatal disorders. Check out: www.beyondblue.org.au, www.panda.org.au, and www.blackdoginstitute.org.au for more information. Becoming more informed is the first step to seeking help and starting to debunk the ‘myths’.
Psychology Consultants have a number of Clinical Psychologists who are experienced in Post Natal Depression treatment. Visit www.psychologyconsultants.com.au
Stein A, Craske MG, Lehtonen A, Harvey A, Savage-McGlynn E, Davies B, Goodwin J, Murray L, Cortina-Borja M, Counsell N. (2012). Maternal cognitions and mother-infant interaction in postnatal depression and generalized anxiety disorder. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 121, 795-809
Mum’s the Word
Kathryn Smith- Clinical Psychologist
With Mental Health Week fast approaching it can be a timely reminder to speak about a topic which is not often spoken about. We are bombarded with ads on TV depicting how wonderful motherhood is, and whilst it is for many, for some it is a daily struggle.
Recently I was asked to speak at a Perinatal Mental Health Forum. The main topic of focus was Postnatal Depression and how can we help these women deal with this problem and why are they continuing to fall between the cracks?
It is estimated that 1 in 7 women will experience post-natal depression and 1in 10 men will also experience this. This is not the same as the “Baby Blues” typically experienced within the first week following birth but quickly resolving. This consists of depressed mood, loss of appetite, exhaustion, poor sleep, often poor attachment to the baby and sometime suicidal and homicidal ideas. Tragically, some of these ideas are acted on if the symptoms are so severe and the parent cannot see any other way out.
Most that experience post-natal depression, often feel guilty for having these symptoms and are too scared to reach out due to the fear of perhaps losing their baby. They also feel like such a failure as “everyone else” seems to be coping and they are constantly reminded of this at Mother’s groups and Facebook posts. They are not filled with a sense of wonderment that is portrayed in the media and feel everyday as a constant struggle with no enjoyment.
Prevention of this is often better than a cure. A topic of discussion at the forum was how do we assist couples with transitioning into parenthood and really prepare them for the relentless demands a new baby will bring? Also when they are beginning to struggle how do they reach out and who do they talk to?
For any parent that is relating to this, it is important to realise that you are not alone and this is not because you are inadequate. It is important to begin a conversation with someone about how you have actually been feeling and to be brutally honest. This can be with another family member, friend or even your GP. It is important to ask for help, even if they are not the person to do it. There are also some organisations that have phone support and resources, they can also direct you to an appropriate service provider. PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia) is one such organisations that offers such support. If depression is left too late, it can have dire consequences on a relationship and the family functioning.
If we begin to speak about Perinatal Depression more, and reach out more, we may be successful in building more programs and gathering more support for this often untreated and debilitating condition. Instead of “Mum’s the Word’, let’s spread the word and make this everyone’s business.
For more information on PANDA visit www.panda.org.au.
Clinical Psychologist Kathryn Smith works at Brisbane based practice, Psychology Consultants, her bio can be viewed at www.psychologyconsultants.com.au