Everything You Need to Know About Postpartum Depression
Motherhood isn’t easy - we know that. But of the many struggles and hardships we’ve talked about, there’s one, in particular, that seems to go unspoken, unheard and unseen more often than the rest. When we choose to stay silent about the things that hurt us - the things that matter - it becomes difficult, if not impossible, for women to find the help and support that they truly need.
This Mother’s Day, we’re going to address the painful reality we (society, men and women alike) tend to skirt around: Postpartum Depression (PPD).
No more sugarcoating it. Despite its reputation, the condition is more common than you’d think — 10 - 15% of women suffer from PPD, and that’s just in Singapore (SingHealth). We believe no mama should have to walk this journey alone, and facing the problem head-on begins first by understanding it.
Don’t take it from us, though: we invited Silvia Wetherell, a Registered Counsellor currently practising at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital in Singapore with a unique specialisation in PPD, to give us the low-down on what you need to know: everything from identifying the symptoms to knowing how to seek help.
#1: What are the symptoms of PPD?How do I know if I have it?
The general symptoms of PPD are quite similar to normal depression, though it will vary for each woman.
Here are some common symptoms AKA warning signs:
Feelings of failure or inadequacy
Excessive worry over the baby
Lack of interest in the baby, or in general
In my opinion, it is less important that the mother “ticks all the boxes” for postpartum depression and instead asks herself with honesty: are my difficult feelings and depressive or anxious thoughts getting in the way of being the mother I want to be? If the answer is yes or even if you are not sure, reach out and get some help. Don’t wait for it to go away on its own as you will be missing out on the immense richness of early motherhood with all its ups and downs.
#2: What is the difference between “baby blues” and PPD?
Many women show some measure of depressive symptoms after childbirth — it is completely normal to feel teary, exhausted and emotional after you’ve had your baby. Your body goes through immense hormonal changes after childbirth; this can help explain some of the difficult emotions and thoughts experienced, but also makes differentiating normal “baby blues” from PPD more tricky.
It tends to be labelled as PPD if the symptoms intensify and linger longer than a couple of weeks. You can think of it as a continuum with some mild depressive symptoms at one end and severe PPD or even postpartum psychosis at the extreme end. Help must be sought immediately if the mother experiences severe symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions or has thoughts of harming herself or the baby.
#3: Why am I suffering from PPD?
It’s normal to want an explanation for what you’re going through, but simply finding the cause may not bring the positive changes you’re hoping for.
There are a million things that could contribute to PPD symptoms: family background and upbringing, previous miscarriages, expectations around becoming a mother, the availability of social, emotional and financial support (or lack thereof), identity issues, health issues, and so on.
Some women who become mothers for the first time are surprised to find that the strategies they’ve employed in their successful careers are useless when dealing with a baby and their expectations may, in fact, further contribute to feelings of inadequacy.
The situation may also be worsened if you attempt to shut off or even “get rid of” the depressive and anxious feelings. When you try to control your internal experience it can backfire and create even more difficult emotions and thoughts. What happens when you try hard not to feel anxious? What happens when you feel bad about feeling depressed? You got it… it’s a vicious circle.
#4: Can you get PPD much later after the birth of your child?
Absolutely. If you become aware of struggling with depressive symptoms in the first 12 months of your baby’s life it is considered postpartum depression.
Also, you can get depression with your second, third child and so on - it’s not just first-time mothers who get it.
#5: How long will it take to get better?
Every mother is unique, which makes it is difficult to predict how long it will take for you to feel better. Instead of searching for a cure you might also want to look at it as a process which has value in itself. Through the bleakness of depression, you may deepen your awareness of yourself and what matters to you most. That depth of experience can, in the long run, enrich your experience of motherhood.
Be kind and compassionate to yourself along the way and be wary of anyone who promises quick results, the journey out of depression is through it - not around it.
#6: How can I get help?
Start by opening up to the people closest to you, whom you trust will be supportive and encouraging. Make an appointment with your GP to talk it through and inquire about counselling options (it might even be covered by your insurance policy). Some women may need medication while for others, psychological support could be enough.
There are quite a few counsellors and psychotherapists in Singapore so if you don’t want to be on a waiting list, you can also make an appointment with a private practitioner. It is important to choose a counsellor with whom you feel comfortable and able to open up to, so don’t be afraid to “shop around.”
About Silvia Wetherell:
Silvia Wetherell is a Registered Counsellor practising at a private Obstetric clinic (The Choolani Clinic) at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital in Singapore. Silvia has a special interest in maternal mental health, helping her clients work through pre and postpartum depression and anxiety, pregnancy loss, birth trauma, difficulties with bonding, relationship adjustment, anger management and early parenting issues.
Having been trained in London and with a Masters from Monash University, Silvia practices integratively from a humanistic perspective and incorporates mindfulness and EMDR in her counselling approach.
Silvia is also a Postpartum Support International Coordinator and Co-founder and facilitator of the free support group for mothers, Mindful Mums.