Postnatal Depression Recovery
Meet these women recovering and helping others recover from PND
In the modern age, social media serves as an important tool for support and awareness. We all get to hear how social media can affect our mental health, but on the brighter side, it has become a platform playing roles towards ending mental health stigma.
Recovery from any condition is a long process. It involves learning how to cope, requires self and interpersonal support, and has many ups and downs. Although recovery from a mental health condition might have its unique obstacles, success begins as long as we try. It is quite surprising how our everyday conversations, online and offline, can pave the way towards wellness.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that almost 13% of women who have just given birth experience a mental health condition. Whilst this statistic might seem unalarming, what makes things more significant are the many cases that go unreported.
What is Postnatal Depression?
Postnatal Depression (PND) is a type of depression that many parents experience after having a baby. While many women do get tearful, anxious, or feel low right after giving birth, these ‘baby blues’ must be distinguished from PND as they last for not more than 2 weeks following childbirth.
It should also be noted that PND is not confined to occur immediately after the birth of a child, and parents can experience Postnatal Depression up to 2 years after their child is born.
Pam K. is a healthcare manager who resides in the United Kingdom. In 2017, Pam was surprised when she got to know she was pregnant when she was 43 years old, and following the birth of her son, she started feeling down. Not looking forward to the sudden change, Pam felt sad while her husband was really happy. Initially thinking that it was just the ‘baby blues’, Pam decided to give her feelings more time. She did not share her feelings with her partner or when she had health visitors come home.
However, time did not seem to help Pam feel any better. She decided to take her baby to baby clubs just to go outside and try to redirect her feelings, but even in that supportive place, Pam felt different from the other mothers’ – they all seemed to have a connection with their children. On the other hand, instead of a connection, Pam had feelings of resentment and felt suicidal.
By then, Pam’s husband knew that she was unwell, but had no clue about her being suicidal. Curious about whether other mothers battled some of her feelings, Pam started to chat about what she was going through and realized that her feelings were not normal. After one particular rough night, Pam was feeling really depressed and when her health visitor came by, she broke down.
Pam felt like a huge weight was lifted off her shoulders when the health visitor assured her that help was available. “She was very kind, gave me a hug, and said that I might have postnatal depression and I should see the doctor,” Pam said.
In denial, Pam still did not accept that she may be facing a mental health condition. She did not make a doctors’ appointment, as it was hard to acknowledge that she might need to take anti-depressants or that her baby could be taken away if she shared the fact that she battled suicidal thoughts. On a regular check-up, Pam did honestly tell her doctor that she was feeling sad, and the doctor acknowledged that it might ‘just be baby blues’ and that she could come back if things did not change. Pam did not schedule another appointment.
Pam started reading other stories of women facing PND and she realized that the condition was what happened naturally to some women. She confided to her partner, and initially, her husband also went through denial. He only took stronger notice and became more supportive when Pam mentioned how the condition led her to also feel suicidal. Pam then helped him become more aware of the condition, and although he also seemed depressed, they both supported one another.
PND can also affect men. Dr. Caroline Kahn, PhD, a Clinical Psychologist and Specialist in Perinatal Mental Health confirms that partners can often face PND simultaneously: “When one partner is depressed and is less available emotionally, it is actually a risk factor for the other partner’s mood and stability.”
Support from Others
When undergoing the recovery process, how our environment supports us really matters. One thing Pam found helpful was how her manager was very supportive of her feelings. When Pam shared what she was going through, men in particular understood and actually opened up about how their own partners faced the issues involved. These powerful conversations assured Pam that she was not alone.
Dr. Caroline Kahn highlights the importance of environmental support, “Women often know what they need and friends, family, partners, and employers can offer so much by truly listening and validating those needs without judgement or imposing their own vision.”
How Pam Copes Today
Today, Pam copes with her PND. She embraces how we all can feel low at times, and has found that she is less anxious. She looks forward to her day, and has learned how to incorporate self-care and gratitude practices for her well-being. She has found a support circle consisting of other mothers’ and is more ready to give them a call if she needs the support. Moreover, Pam has taken a big step in her recovery journey by beginning to trust a counselor who she has counseling sessions with. Knowing that his wife now has the support needed to continue recovering, Pam’s husband is also doing well.
Pam has been using social media to help support women and their partners who face postnatal depression, through “My Story Postnatal” where she shares her own experiences too.
The Importance of Diagnosis
Due to factors such as stigma, Pam never attained a formal diagnosis. However, being diagnosed and able to receive professional support is a helpful way to recover from conditions such as PND.
Laura Clark experienced a very hard time especially 9 weeks after her son was born. She could hardly function, and found immensely difficult to eat, sleep, or control her anxiety. She reached out to specialist help right away, and believes that although it is terrifying, a diagnosis can be a turning point: “Now that I’m able to look back and see that it was a hugely important turning point; the first step on my long road to recovery. Quick diagnosis and support is essential and something that all new mums show have access to."
Today, Laura has used her recovery to become a mental health advocate. She has a blog called “The Butterfly Mother”, where she highlights mental health, emotional wellbeing and self-care for parents.
Practical Skills and Peer Support for PND
Katherine Aucoin, a Registered Therapeutic Counselor at Blossoming Mother Counseling recommends Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) as a practical skill to use during PND recovery: “CBT has been shown to be very effective for post-natal depression and anxiety. The focus is on shifting negative thinking to more realistic/positive thinking which can greatly impact mood. Emotional awareness and being able to move through big emotions such as anger and disappointment through acceptance and appropriate expression such as journaling without suppressing them can make a big difference.”
Rosey is also a blogger supporting maternal mental health awareness. After being inspired by her acknowledgement of how lonely the recovery process can be, Rosey founded the #PNDHour which has been running since 15 January 2014 on Twitter. It is a one-hour tweet-chat held every Wednesday which sees many people getting peer support, something Rosey believes can play a pivotal role in a person’s recovery.
One message that Rosey has for the PND community is: “You are not alone and it gets better, you won’t always feel this way and the sunshine will find its way through the clouds.”
This article was written in collaboration with Ayesha Tariq Ali. Ayesha is a psychology student who combines her passion for mental health advocacy with her writing and poetry talents.