By Dr Parul Tank
Depression is one of the most common illnesses in the world. About 25 per cent of people at some point will experience depression in their lives. In general, women experience it at a higher rate than men. It could be because of the impact of hormones, life stressors or a genetic predisposition. Study of these stressors has shown that while depression is experienced higher in women, a vulnerable time is often during pregnancy, when the hormonal changes are at their peak.
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 the child. Depressive symptoms seen during these times often escalate if there are stressors or a past history of depression. Family history of mood disorders should be also be looked into, as often these can be the triggering factors for women to be experiencing perinatal anxiety.
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, antidepressants 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 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.
Symptoms which need to be looked out for include:
* Low mood
* Crying spells
* Lack of interest in self and child
* Low self-worth
* Irregular sleep
* Loss of appetite
While there medicines which one can be on, which are safe while breastfeeding and are given along with supportive therapy, it has to be treated professionally. If left untreated, it can persist and eventually lead to a chronic depressive state, which reduces the quality of life for the mother and affects the life of the child as well. If you yourself, or a family member, notices any of the aforementioned 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.
(The writer is a consultant psychiatrist, Fortis Hospital, Mulund)