Depression is one of the most common conditions in the world and about 25% of people, at some point, will experience it in their lives. It could be because of hormonal changes, life stressors or maybe a genetic predisposition. The study of these stressors put together has shown that depression is experienced higher in women than in men. A vulnerable time is often during pregnancy when the hormonal changes are at their peak.

We got in touch with Consultant Psychiatrist and Therapist Dr Parul Tank from Fortis Hospital. She helps us understand everything there is to know about perinatal (immediately before and after delivering) depression, its symptoms and possible solutions to overcome it.

1. What is perinatal anxiety? Can you give us some general symptoms that an expecting woman’s partner or close ones should look out for?

Perinatal Anxiety is one such form of distress that a woman may go through during pregnancy or in the first year following the birth of a child. Depressive symptoms are often seen during these times when women are pregnant and it often escalates if there are stressors or a past history of depression. Family history of mood disorders should be looked into, as often these can be the triggering factors to women experiencing Perinatal Anxiety. 

Symptoms the partner of the women who are expecting or their families and close ones should look out for include:

  • Low mood
  • Crying spells
  • Lack of interest in self & child
  • Low self-worth
  • Irregular sleep 
  • Loss of appetite

2. What exactly are baby blues?

Baby blues are fluctuations in mood seen in nearly 40% of women after delivery. They are quite common and disappear after a few weeks.

3. What is postpartum psychosis? What are some of the symptoms of postpartum psychosis?

Postpartum Psychosis is a more serious illness seen after delivery, wherein the new mother starts having delusions and hallucinations. The most common ones are that someone is harming the baby, or she hears voices relating to harm. This is dangerous to the wellbeing of the mother and the baby. The mother also has symptoms like irregular sleep, talking to herself, being inappropriate, unable to look after herself or the child, disorganised behaviour, trying to hurt herself or the baby, mood swings and so on.

4. How can perinatal anxiety & depression be treated in expecting mothers?

During pregnancy, if the depression is mild and in the initial stages, it can be treated by counselling. While going through these counselling sessions, if there is no relief and if it persists or increases in intensity, anti-depressants are prescribed which are safe in pregnancy. One should make sure not to consume over-the-counter medication as it can be harmful to the mother and the baby. However, sometimes due to various reasons, this initial phase of anxiety is neglected or is left untreated, this is when the depression continues to build-up, turning it into a Postpartum Depression state. This is the most vulnerable state as the mother is now not able to look after herself, which results in neglect of the child and her own personal needs.

5. Are there any alternative treatment methods available to treat perinatal depression in mothers?

Alternative therapies like Homeopathy and Ayurveda are not really helpful in my opinion, but women have been known to try them so you could use your discretion. I would say, in either case, don’t forego a medical opinion. Keep your doctor informed about what you’re taking or doing if you opt for alternative medicine.

6. It is said that talk therapy has been proven beneficial to treat perinatal depression. How does it work?

Talk Therapy is useful only if symptoms are mild; anything more needs medication. In talk therapy, the counsellor generally teaches some positive self-talk techniques, gives small assignments, and helps the patient to challenge irrational thoughts and beliefs.

7. What are some of the activities or lifestyle changes mothers should engage in to deal with perinatal depression and improve their mental health?

Here are some things that will bring a sense of control to the mother, which will help her feel better and not so helpless in the situation:

  • Create a timetable to maintain a daily routine and try and stick to it as much as possible
  • Try to do small chores and get out of bed, up and about, even if one doesn’t feel like doing them 
  • Exercise in some manner – yoga, light walking, dance, anything to engage your body and occupy your mind
  • Learn several relaxation techniques like deep breathing, yoga, meditation, music therapy, talk therapy, etc

8. How long on average does perinatal and postpartum depression persist after the birth of the child?

If untreated, it can persist for a few months to a few years, leading to low productivity and decreased quality of life. It hurts not only the wellbeing of the mother but also the child. Attachment issues can develop.

9. Are there any herbs or home remedies that work as effective mood elevators for such?

Not really. If you, yourself or a family member notices any of the aforesaid symptoms, these should be discussed with your doctor immediately. Your doctor will then help you connect with a mental health expert who will provide appropriate aid.

Disclaimer: This is for the general information of the readers. Always consult a Psychiatrist or a Therapist for such specific mental health problems.