As a society, we've come a long way toward de-stigmatizing mental illnesses, including postpartum depression. However, misconceptions still abound about this very serious mental disorder. Sufferers sometimes feel reluctant to reach out for help, thinking they'll be judged unfairly. What women suffering from postpartum depression need most is compassion and understanding. While compassion is entirely dependent on you, here are 10 must-know facts that will help us all toward a greater understanding.
1. Postpartum depression is fairly common. Many women who suffer from postpartum depression choose not to share their experiences, so some women feel like they are the only ones who are struggling. Fifteen to twenty percent of all mothers will experience postpartum depression, so chances are extremely good that you know someone who suffers, even if she isn't open about it.
2. Postpartum depression affects women from every background. Women of all races, nationalities and income levels suffer from postpartum depression.
3. The symptoms and severity of postpartum depression vary greatly. Symptoms can include mood swings, difficulty eating or sleeping, difficulty bonding with baby, fatigue and loss of interest in daily activities. Some women will only have a few symptoms while others feel a large array. Some women are able to lead fairly normal lives while others can't care for themselves or their babies.
4. Postpartum depression can occur anytime in the first year. Many women think that postpartum depression occurs immediately after birth, but women can suddenly start to see symptoms anytime within the first year of baby's life. Although postpartum depression often begins in the first three weeks after birth, symptoms that begin later should not be ignored.
5. There is no singular cause of postpartum depression. Hormones, fatigue, family and personal history, and lack of support can all contribute to postpartum depression. It is a serious medical condition with genetic, neurological and hormonal components. It is definitely not a mother's fault. In fact, the depression is something beyond her conscious control.
6. Postpartum depression is treatable. There is no reason to suffer postpartum depression in silence. Possible treatments include antidepressants and talk therapy with a professional counselor. Even many breastfeeding moms can take medicine to help with postpartum depression under a physician's care. Healing all starts with a trip to the doctor.
7. There are support groups for moms. Sometimes it helps mothers to know they aren't suffering alone. There are support groups and counselors all over the world ready to help depressed mothers.
8. Mothers can also help themselves in meaningful ways. In addition to professional support, there are things mothers can do to ease their own depression. Moms should try to get enough rest, eat on a regular schedule, complete meaningful tasks throughout the day, reach out to others for support and stay physically active.
9. Postpartum depression may not go away on its own. Mothers should never be expected to "snap out of it" or get over their depression on their own. Postpartum depression is a serious mental condition that cannot be thought, wished or prayed away. Mothers need support as they work on an individual plan to get healthy again.
10. Mothers with postpartum depression are still wonderful mothers. Sensational media stories aside, mothers with postpartum depression rarely hurt their children. Also, despite potentially difficult bonding, mothers with depression love their children and want the best for them. Having postpartum depression does not make a woman a bad mother.
We can all ease the burden on mothers with postpartum depression. One of the best ways to help a mother with postpartum depression is simply to show up and listen. Don't judge her or her experiences. All she needs from you is compassion and patience.
Heather Hale is a fourth-generation Montanan, mom to three crazy boys, and wife to one amazing husband. She writes about passionate parenthood at moderatelycrunchy.com.