Find out how psychological therapy, medication and self-help can improve your mood after you’ve had a baby.
The transition to parenthood is an intense time and the perinatal period is when women are most vulnerable to developing mental health problems. Perinatal mental illnesses include depression, anxiety, and in some cases, postpartum psychosis.
So what happens if you suspect you have postnatal depression (PND), or a health professional has just diagnosed you? There are a number of effective postnatal depression treatment options, but making the best choice for you, may be confusing or overwhelming.
In most cases, mild to moderate postnatal depression can be treated with psychological therapies, usually by a psychologist. For some women, antidepressant medication may be necessary, in combination with psychological therapy and self-help measures. Moderate to severe postnatal depression will require a combination of antidepressant medication and psychological treatments.
We’ll look at the range of postnatal depression treatment options including psychological therapies, medication, self-help and other measures.
Psychological counselling is one of the most used and effective postnatal depression treatments.
Talking to experienced professionals like psychologists can help you better understand your thoughts and feelings, improve your relationship with your partner and baby, and learn strategies to overcome symptoms of postnatal depression.
For many women, talking to a trusted professional can provide an excellent opportunity to vent, debrief and explore your feelings, relationships and circumstances in a safe, judgement-free environment.
Psychological therapies can help address negative thought patterns, social isolation, sleep deprivation, anxiety and depressive symptoms, challenging expectations and improve your self-esteem. They can also help you work through other stressors such as relationship breakdown, domestic violence, parenting issues (e.g. transition to parenthood, or juggling a baby along with older children), childhood trauma, family dynamics, and of course, how to deal with the in-laws! You may also need support to cope with returning to work.
For some women effective postnatal depression treatment may require the use of medication.
Medication can be beneficial if you’re experiencing the following:
- Low mood
- Poor appetite
- Significant sleep disruption (unrelated to waking for your baby)
- Having negative thoughts about your baby
- Having suicidal thoughts
- Feeling disconnected from your baby or partner
- Struggling to get out of bed
- Low motivation or energy
Antidepressant medication can address these symptoms by increasing your motivation and energy so you can get out of bed in the morning and face the day, and it also enhances your ability to engage in therapy.
Some people find the prospect of taking antidepressant medications confronting. There’s a lot of misinformation about antidepressant medication but for some women it can be very useful in the treatment of severe postnatal depression.
If your doctor recommends an antidepressant for postnatal depression, it’s a good idea to ask questions, request relevant sources of information and to be informed before you decide whether it’s the best option for you.
Here are some other important points to remember:
- antidepressants can quickly relieve anxiety, poor sleep, poor appetite, agitation and low motivation but they can take up to six weeks before they have their full effect
- Some medications will cause mild side effects in the first week or two and then usually subside. In this case, your doctor may start you on a lower dose and increase it in increments over a few weeks (also known as titrating), to reduce the risk of side-effects and to establish which dose will be the most effective.
- While you won’t have to be on antidepressants for your entire life, to ensure the depressive symptoms are targeted and reduce the risk of relapse, a typical course of antidepressants will be for 6 to 12 months after your symptoms have resolved.
Some of the ways you can manage your depressive symptoms on your own include:
- Improving sleep habits
- Stress management
- Structured problem-solving skills
- Relaxation strategies (especially in the case of anxiety)
- Increasing daily activities (also known as activity scheduling)
- Reducing intake of caffeine and alcohol consumption
- Managing negative thoughts
Remember, self-help measures are no substitute for medication or psychological therapies when they are required. Often, people with postnatal depression will experience low energy and low motivation and so implementing self-help strategies can be difficult. Working with a psychologist can help you learn and develop these skills so that you can use them in your daily life.
What else may help postnatal depression?
Increasing forms of social connection and self-care are positive steps toward recovering from postnatal depression. Some women find the following helpful in their recovery:
- Mother’s groups
- Postnatal yoga/ fitness groups
- Mobile phone apps: Mind the Bump is a fantastic app that teaches mindfulness strategies to new mums and dads from the convenience of your phone.
These services and programs may help to decrease feelings of isolation and tension as well as increase your capacity to deal with stress and your self-esteem.
What happens if postnatal depression is left untreated?
Won’t postnatal depression just go away? Like with any mental health issues, it’s best to seek help as early as possible. If left untreated, an episode of postnatal depression may last from six to twelve months or longer, and you are more likely to relapse. This will have a significant impact on your emotional wellbeing, and your baby too.
Depression is a condition that can be overcome and when appropriately treated, usually with a combination of medication and psychological therapy, most people can expect a full recovery in a few months.
Ready to talk to a professional?
If you think you’re suffering from postnatal depression, or have recently been diagnosed with PND, then seeing your GP is a good first step to discuss treatment options. Your GP may recommend antidepressant medication and refer you to a private psychologist. You can also self-refer to a private psychologist.
Looking for Postnatal depression treatment?
Ahead Psychology has experienced Brisbane- based psychologists who can help you recover from postnatal depression. Call us on (07) 3352 3577 or send us a message.