Mental Health Overview
There are a large number of organisations to support parents and children with emotional health problems. This site is intended to introduce you to some common mental health problems you may experience as a parent and to offer guidance and support during this time. Health visitors are often the professional you have most contact with in the early weeks after having a baby and they can support you in your home or guide you to a more specialist mental health professional. Whatever emotional difficulties you may be experiencing it is important for you to know that you do not have to face these alone.
Antenatal Depression and Anxiety
Some women in the antenatal period feel overwhelmed and low despite very much wanting their baby. Antenatal depression may be difficult to diagnose as women may put their low mood down to hormonal changes and minimise how they are feeling. The transition to motherhood is a complex process with women undergoing both physical and emotional changes. Relationships with partners, other family members and friends may also be affected. Negative past experiences may also be triggered during this period resulting in low mood or depression.
Signs and symptoms are similar to those experienced by women with postnatal depression. Speak with your midwife and GP about how you are feeling and they will be able to support you during this time and refer you to a specialist service if necessary.
Many mothers with depression worry they may harm their babies. This is very rare. At times you may feel so exhausted and overwhelmed that you feel like shaking or hitting your baby. In spite of having these feelings most mothers don’t act on them. However, if you do feel like this, TALK TO SOMEONE. Health professionals are there to help you.
We now understand some fathers develop postnatal depression. Around 3-10% of men will experience depression during the postnatal period. Many people think that men experience paternal postnatal depression (PPND) as a result of, or in conjunction with, their partner’s depression, but men can experience this independently from their partners.
Postnatal Baby Blues
Baby blues are extremely common with up to 80% of women experiencing emotional changes in the first two weeks after delivery. It is natural to feel a little overwhelmed and tearful following delivery and for most women this only lasts a few days. It is important to be kind to yourself and for those closest to you to be supportive during these early weeks of recovery from labour and adapting to a new baby. Postnatal blues usually only last a day to two and then fade as quickly as they came. They are not a cause for concern unless the feelings continue or become worse. Speak to your midwife or health visitor if you find your low mood is not lifting.
This is a serious but rare condition occurring in around one in 1000 births. The problem usually starts very suddenly during the first two weeks with severely disturbed mood and behaviour. Mothers can become severely agitated and confused with upsetting beliefs about themselves and their baby.
It is important to seek immediate medical help by contacting your GP or midwife. MIND also has more detailed information about the signs and symptoms and treatment approaches. While it can be very frightening and can feel overwhelming for you and your family, with the right support and treatment most women recover fully.
PND is a depressive illness occurring usually within 6 weeks of having a baby although it can occur at any time during the baby’s first year. It can come on very suddenly or it can happen over a period of weeks and months. Sometimes it is difficult for a woman or her family to realise she is depressed. It affects between 10-15% of new mothers. It can happen to fathers too.
Traditionally having a baby is viewed by society as a joyful event, a time for celebration. However for many women it is not a time of joy. Many women struggle with the demands a new baby brings. They may feel inadequately prepared for the task of caring for a new born, the loss of daily routines , the sleepless nights, changes in their role within the family, changes in their career, changes in their relationships with their partner, coping with partners possible adjustment difficulties to parenting or their absence due to work demands or relationship breakdown. Alongside this they may also have other stresses happening; financial concerns, isolation or unexpectedly difficult birth. This emotional upheaval can lead to a depressive experience of varying degrees.
What causes postnatal depression?
Having a baby is a time of great change with new mothers experiencing physical, biological emotional and social changes. Postnatal depression may be caused by a mixture of these things. Other present day stressful life events or unresolved negative events from mothers past may also be a contributing factor. For more information on causes please visit MIND.
- Feeling sad, upset, despairing on many days
- Crying a lot or feeling unable to cry
- Feeling worthless or like a ‘bad’ parent
- Mood going up and down
- Feeling guilty a lot of the time
- Feeling confused
- Feeling angry (with yourself, those close to you, your baby)
- Feeling tense, anxious, irritable and being unable to relax
- Feeling angry ( with yourself, others, baby)
- Loss of interest and lack of motivation
- Slowed speech or speaking hurriedly
- Difficulty making everyday decisions
- Loss of appetite or eating too much
- Loss of libido (not wanting sexual intimacy )
- Insomnia and extreme exhaustion
- Thinking about death or feeling you don’t want to live anymore
- Not feeling the way you want to towards your baby
When people are depressed they are very good at thinking in a very negative and unhelpful way. They might:
- Be overly critical of themselves: ‘I’m a dreadful mother’; ‘I should know what to do’ ‘I’m useless’.
- Worry excessively
- Jump to the worst conclusions (catastrophising)
- Expect the worst to happen, ‘It’s all hopeless – things are never going to be alright again’.
- Focus on the bad stuff, as if you are looking at the world through dark glasses.
- Hopeless thoughts, ‘It’s all dreadful, sometimes I think my family would be better off without me.’
- Poor concentration
- Difficulty making decisions
- Confused cluttered thoughts
- Not doing things you used to enjoy doing
- Not wanting to go out and see friends
- Not doing everyday tasks or finding them hard to do
- Arguing more with loved ones, getting angry, shouting, feeling as if you are losing control.
If you have experience a number of these symptoms and have felt like this for a few weeks since having your baby you might be suffering from postnatal depression. It is important that you speak to someone. If you can, do share your thoughts and feelings with your partner or trusted family member. But also speak to your GP, Midwife or Health Visitor.
How can my Health Visitor help?
Your health visitor has specialist training in identifying and supporting parents with postnatal depression and anxiety. They are able to come to your home and help you make sense of how you feel. They will spend time with you and help you work out a plan to help you ‘get ahead of postnatal depression’. This may mean a referral to your GP for further assessment or a referral to a more specialist professional.
At other times just having the Health Visitor come on a regular basis to your home offering ‘listening visits’ may help you realise you are not alone and enable you to make small but positive steps towards lifting your low mood. These visits will enable you to work together, exploring the problem areas in your life, set goals and together find a new way to move forward and enjoy life as a parent.
Health visitors also work closely with the children’s centres and they offer many activities that will allow you to have some quality time with your baby in a supportive nurturing environment.
The Health Visitor may also refer you to a specialist group for supporting women with postnatal depression; guide you to online self-help courses or charitable organisations offering support groups for women with PND.
However hard it is, reach out and ask for help from your family, friends and professionals. You are not alone (although often you may feel you are), one day at a time and eventually the depression will lift and you will enjoy your life again.
Having thoughts about harming yourself or your baby is very frightening. You may feel you don’t want to tell anyone for fear of having your baby removed. Having these thoughts does not necessarily mean you will act on them but it is important you share these thoughts with someone you trust or a health professional. Talking about these thoughts will help you recover from the depression and enable the right people to support you during this time. Postnatal depression responds well to treatment and most people recover quickly.
If you feel you are in immediate danger seek help from your GP, Emergency Services or go to your nearest Accident and Emergency Department.