It may seem strange to talk about a bright side to Postnatal Depression (PND), but there is one – the fact that there are now more ways to find information, help and support than ever before.
Where can you get help for PND?
Your health visitor is often the first port of call, and you can also see your GP – don’t put off talking to a health professional because you’re frightened you’ll be pressurised into doing something you don’t want to. GPs don’t just offer medication – they can also give you information about counselling and local support.You can also call one of the following helplines:
Home Start 08000 686368
This charity offers support to families and may be able to provide someone to come round to help with your children
The Association for Postnatal Illness 020 7386 0868
Call this helpline during office hours to speak to a sympathetic advisor, or visit the website at apni.org
What can you do to help yourself cope with PND?
Write down your thoughts and fears
This can help you make sense of how you’re feeling and think more clearly.
Take gentle exercise
This can seem impossible if you have no energy, but a walk outside can clear your head, and exercise releases endorphins, feel good chemicals that boost mood and help you sleep.
Even if you have no appetite, try to eat small amounts regularly, as low blood sugar can contribute to low mood.
Be kind to yourself
Treat yourself once a day – a hot bath, your favourite food or drink, ten minutes listening to a relaxation CD – so you have something to look forward to.
Will you have to take medication?
Depending on your particular symptoms and their severity, your doctor may suggest antidepressant medication. This can seem frightening, particularly when you’re depressed and everything seems overwhelming.
But antidepressants aren’t addictive, won’t change your personality or turn you into a zombie. They readjust the balance of chemicals in your brain, boosting your mood and calming anxiety, so that you have the strength to get back to your old self. There are some antidepressants that are better for women who are breastfeeding, so discuss this with your doctor too.
Medication isn’t the only treatment option, though. Ask your GP about counselling or group therapy, which are often available on the NHS. Cognitive behavioural therapy, where you learn to spot and change negative thought processes, is becoming more and more popular as a treatment for PND.
What happens if the PND is very severe?
PND can vary in its severity, and a very few women (only 1 in 500 mothers) suffer from an extreme form called Puerperal Psychosis, which means that they lose touch with reality, and have seriously altered mood, thoughts and behaviour. This is rare and has to be treated with antidepressants and sometimes mood-balancing drugs such as lithium.
In some cases a woman may have to hospitalised, if she is having dangerous or suicidal thoughts or feelings. The good news is that all women who suffer from puerperal psychosis make a complete recovery.
How long does it take to recover?
Recovery time from PND varies hugely from person to person, and depends on how long you’ve been feeling ill, and how severe your symptoms are. If you take antidepressants, they can take a few weeks to start working, and the improvement is gradual rather than immediate.
Counselling can take a bit longer, although some people who’ve had cognitive behavioural therapy say that they feel better very quickly after being shown the techniques. Just remember that you WILL get better – there will be ups and downs, but gradually the ups will outnumber the downs.
Can it happen again?
There’s evidence to suggest that if you’ve had PND once, you’re more likely to get it next time you have a baby. This doesn’t mean it will definitely happen, though. The good news is that if you’ve experienced PND, you’ll be able to spot the feelings sooner, and get help more quickly.
You can also take steps to protect yourself: don’t make unrealistic demands on yourself, arrange for help and support in the early weeks, and make sure you eat well, rest enough, and get out and about regularly.