Have you ever heard a new mother whine about how she has been reduced to the status of a milk vending machine? Or that she feels she is incapable of taking good care of her child? Heard an endless rant of, “I can’t do it?”, “What will I do if I am left alone”?
Such symptoms should raise suspicion and possibility of Post Natal Depression. Statistics from a research in 2009 by University of IOWA states that average rate of non-psychotic postpartum depression as per a large number of studies is 13%. It also says that the strongest predictors of post partum depression were past history of psychological disturbance during pregnancy, poor marital relationship and stressful life events.
Depression has been a subject of high interest lately, so much so that it became this year’s theme for the World Health Day. As far as Post Partum Depression is concerned, in India one in every five new mothers is said to be suffering from various degrees of Post Partum Depression. Sometimes the immediate stress of looking after a baby, disturbed sleep patterns and food habits added to poor emotional support (remember all the attention deviates towards the baby!) lead to a milder form of Post Partum Depression, which resolves on its own within a month or two. But in some cases the symptoms do not withdraw in this time period. Women who are more likely to have a more continual form of Post Partum Depression are the ones who –
- Have a family history of depression
- Women who had a difficult pregnancy or a difficult delivery
- Those with a difficult marriage or poor emotional support
- Women with other stress factors in life – such as pressure to get back to work, to get back in shape, to manage their family with a tight budget etc.
Post Partum Depression can be self-diagnosed by checking for the related symptoms. Questionnaires for these symptoms are widely available on the internet. Yet in a normal Indian household where women use internet on regular basis and are capable of checking for symptoms of Post Partum Depression themselves, few women feel free to express their potential Depression to their family or even their spouse. I remember having discussed the possibility of suffering from Post Partum depression with my friend who was then a mother to a two month old. She mentioned the discussion to her husband, who is also a friend and not only educated but also someone with global exposure; and what was his reaction? “You women discover new problems for yourselves”, and he went back to doing his chores.
Yes a regular Indian household even when well educated and well exposed to global trends and cultures is still not prepared enough to accept that a new mother who could be their daughter, daughter-in-law, sister or wife could be suffering from something like depression. The reasons for such attitude are primarily the following:
Given the joy and excitement that are accrued with the arrival of a baby it is difficult to perceive that it could bring any kind of psychological trouble or trauma to a mother.
The overwhelming experience of child birth sometimes instills a lot of anxiety leading to depression. But the mothers feel guilty about having such anxiety and refrain from discussing their state with anyone.
How Post Partum Depression can be treated –
Only a small percentage of mothers suffering from Post Partum Depression need anti-depressants. Moreover anti-Depressants or mood-elevators cannot be prescribed to nursing mothers. Thus the treatment of Post-Partum Depression is largely dependent on the support system that can be provided only by her spouse and family. The families can do this in various ways–
- Mother suffering from post-partum depression may find that they do not feel affectionate enough towards their baby. In such a case they may not be able to take care of the baby in general. Help should be provided to them for child care.
- Insufficient sleep/rest may worsen the condition of a suffering mother. Family members must make sure that she has enough rest and sound sleep. This will require efforts in taking care of the child.
- The onus of providing emotional support lies with the spouse and both the mothers. At no point of time when the birth of the baby is being celebrated, should the new mother feel lonely or left out.
Professional counseling should be sought incase the mother does not feel free to share her fears and anxiety with any family member or friend. Letting out the fears is very important lest the mother may go into a shell and find it very difficult to sustain her existence in an environment where she feels left out.
I have come across a case of domestic violence where the allegations by a young mother of a baby girl were dismissed because the husband’s family proved that the lady was suffering from PPD. Medical examination proved that she was not suffering from PPD and that the husband’s family tried to use it as a tool against her to do away with the legal case. She subsequently fought against her husband and his family to seek divorce and lead an independent life. In another instance, a mother of two kids (5 years and 10 months) was found hanging from her bedroom’s ceiling fan. The police investigation was a open and shut case where they mentioned Post Partum Depression as the reason for her suicide. No further investigation was made against the prestigious family. These two cases hit me like a blow in the face because in both the cases PPD was used as a legal argument to camouflage other potential causes of torment to the two young women. It made me wonder that if the carriers of law and order knew when to step in with this supposedly superfluous disorder called Post Partum Depression, then why could a normal Indian household not face up to the fact that one of their family members could be suffering from this disorder and needs their help to revive to a normal and happy life.