Despite the feeling of happiness that is usually associated with childbearing, joy is not always constant and not necessarily all-permeating, especially after birth. Pregnancy and child delivery create one of the most stressful conditions for the human body, with hormonal changes making a person susceptible to mental illness. The most common mental health problem associated with childbirth remains postpartum depression, which can affect both sexes, and negatively influences the newborn child.
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With feelings of sadness dubbed “the baby blues” being quite common directly after childbirth, postpartum depression takes on a much more dire form. It is classified as “an episode of major depressive disorder or of bipolar I or bipolar II disorder, if the episode has an onset within four weeks postpartum” (Vliegen, Casalin & Luyten, 2014, p. 1). With such specifications, it becomes one of the acutest mental health issues directly associated with childbirth and affecting the health of the whole family.
With both mother and father having a chance of experiencing postpartum depression, mothers remain most directly affected by it and most at-risk. A study by Vliegen et al. (2014) has found that while there is no homogenous group susceptible to postpartum depression, factors such as lower relationship quality and previous history of mental illness heighten its chances. Stressful life circumstances and individual predisposition to stress also positively affect the possibility of lapsing into a postpartum depression that, in turn, can develop into chronic mental illness.
The typical signs of depression, such as sadness, apathy, and exhaustion, mirror directly with the signs of its postpartum correspondent. With some of these symptoms being reflective of the hardships of childbearing, “it becomes difficult to distinguish between normal physiological reactions and symptoms of postpartum depression” (Moraes, Lorenzo, Pontes, Montenegro & Cantilino, 2017, p. 59). Distinguishing standard and postpartum depression becomes feasible only by considering timeframes, giving up to one year after childbirth for the latter to manifest.
Misdiagnosis and mistreatment of postpartum depression may lead not only to a decreased quality of life for the whole family but also to direct risks for the newborn’s health. Mothers become less invested in their child due to an inability to tend to even themselves, becoming less engrossed in infant care (Vliegen et al., 2014). Neglect during the most vulnerable stages of their life can dampen the child’s cognitive and social abilities, as well as create possible setbacks in empathy demonstration.
An adequate screening process to diagnose and create a prerequisite for the treatment of mental illness hence becomes an important step in the childbearing process. The process of recognition of postpartum depression bases itself most frequently on an interview method, with some use of self-questionnaires (Moraes et al., 2017). Unfortunately, with postpartum depression sometimes manifesting even as late as one year after childbirth, it remains unidentified when is the best time for such screening.
With all the factors that create circumstances for postpartum mental illness, it becomes possible that prevention is more feasible than treatment of this condition. With antenatal classes focusing on easing the process of, preparing families for and resolving any possible worries related to childbirth, it seems appropriate that they include postpartum depression in their curriculum. Mothers predisposed to stress remain most vulnerable to postpartum depression, and the anxiety of first-time birth may prove to be the catalyst for it. Five one-hour classes focused on depression awareness, despite the stigma of it, may create agreeable conditions for decreasing the percentage of afflicted, but can only accomplish as much, as the correction of natural predispositions allows.
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Moraes, G., Lorenzo, L., Pontes, G., Montenegro, M., & Cantilino, A. (2017). Screening and diagnosing postpartum depression: When and how? Trends in Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, 39(1), 54-61. Web.
Vliegen, N., Casalin, S., & Luyten, P. (2014). The course of postpartum depression. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 22(1), 1-22. Web.