Understanding Postpartum Depression and How Therapy Can Help

a woman being consoled by an older woman while she holds her infant child

Many of us may be familiar with the term “baby blues.” Considering how impactful the process of birth can be for mothers, many may feel stressed, sad, anxious, lonely, tired, or tearful after their child is born. However, there’s a difference between “baby blues” and the more severe mood disorder known as postpartum depression. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), as many as 1 in 7 women experience postpartum depression. Unlike the more benign “blues,” this condition won’t simply disappear on it’s own. Postpartum depression can persist days, or even months after the baby is delivered, all depending on whether or not it’s treated. Postpartum, or PPD, can make it difficult for many mothers to get through the day, and can affect their abilities to take care of their babies or themselves. What’s more, PPD can affect any woman, regardless of ease or difficulty of pregnancy and labor, what number child has been born, and regardless of racial, ethnic, religious, or cultural boundaries.

Getting Help for Postpartum Depression

Karen Kleiman is the founder and executive director of the Postpartum Stress Center, LLC. Having researched postpartum depression extensively and written several books on the subject, Kleiman describes the condition thusly: “Postpartum women are bone-tired, exhausted from sleep deprivation, and inundated with chores and fretfulness even on the best of days. They are anxious to carry out the daily demands of a new and needy infant clinging to mommy for sustenance and shelter. New mothers hardly have time for lunch or a hot shower. For some women, without warning, things take a turn for the worse.” This “turn for the worse” she describes, is the symptoms of depression and anxiety which can potentially descend on mothers following the birth of their child, characterizing postpartum depression and potentially compromising their relationship with their child and family in the process.

However, getting help for postpartum can be tricky. As Kleiman explains: “Every postpartum woman is preoccupied, whether she is depressed or not. This is not the best time to insert a therapeutic relationship and time-intensive healing process. But if her symptoms of depression and anxiety are acute enough, if she is sick enough, if her thoughts are distorted enough, she needs help.” Too often postpartum depression is simply dismissed and therefore left untreated. In reality, the best thing to do when either oneself or a loved one is confronted with the condition is to seek immediate help.

Dismantling Taboos about Depression after Child Birth

Unfortunately, there seems to be somewhat of a taboo against mothers who express any sort of negative feelings about their babies or about motherhood, which only reinforces their silence. This taboo helps no one because it suppresses legitimate concerns and emotions based on what other people believe a mother should think and feel. Not all feelings pass easily, nor can we expect them too. That’s why resources like therapy exist to help. Kleiman argues against this idealistic perspective, stating that “We live in a culture that reinforces the notion that women should anticipate a smooth and euphoric progression into motherhood and until recently, this was the exclusive viewpoint depicted in the media. Even as healthcare related advertisements and various promotions continue to portray new mothers as radiant, airbrushed and unattainably blissful, some things are beginning to change.” It is this change that is essential to making help seem more accessible to women everywhere.

There are a number of resources available to help treat postpartum depression. The key is to encourage mothers struggling with PPD to use them without having to feel shame, regret, or discomfort. Seeking help for postpartum doesn’t mean one has failed as a mother nor does it mean that the individual has done anything wrong. Like other forms of depression, it is merely a condition which can follow hormonal changes or stressful events, and birth, while beautiful, is enormously stressful. Luckily, awareness campaigns for PPD and available treatment options have begun to gain momentum. That being said, there is still plenty of misconceptions that continue to take place regarding the condition and it is that misinformation that needs to be combatted in order to make diagnosing and treating PPD less stigmatized than it was previously.

Kleiman explains: “ When we are startled by high statistics, those involved both personally and professionally may misunderstand that when we talk about postpartum depression we are talking about women who experience a clinical depression, with symptoms that meet the criteria of a major mood disorder. Not the blues, not an adjustment disorder, not, oh she has a touch of the postpartum. We are talking about serious symptoms that require serious attention.” After all, postpartum depression doesn’t deserve shaming anymore than major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder do – which is to say none at all. Mental health is a serious subject which deserves to be treated seriously, and individuals struggling with depressive symptoms can and should seek therapy in order to treat and ultimately recover from their conditions.

It’s Important to Ask for Help when Needed

If you or someone you know is struggling with postpartum depression, therapy can help. Speak to a healthcare professional about potential therapists and treatment options. With the proper help, it is possible to recover from PPD and resume a happy, healthy life with one’s family.