The individual woman’s feelings, physical signs, thoughts and behaviour that can be brought about by postnatal depression will vary widely. They can manifest as mild signs that noticeably come and go over various periods of time, to severely unpleasant feelings and thoughts that never seem to go away, or progressively worsen.
The range of expressions (or feelings) of depression can bring about an immense inner struggle for the woman, who may feel that something is ‘not quite right’, but is confused and/or guilty because she thinks that ‘by all accounts’ she should be happy with her beautiful baby. Women can also feel shocked, or angry, if they expected to be happy and content at this time in their lives, but are not. Other women may ‘block out’ or ‘shut down’ their feelings, to avoid (or deny) their emotions and the depression.
Recognising and acknowledging the signs of postnatal depression is an important first step. Reaching out, regardless of how severe the depression feels, is the start of working towards the healing process, and curtailing any worsening of the depression.
- Having a very ‘low’ or ‘flat’ mood.
- Constantly feeling sad and/or guilty, and/or ashamed.
- Having low self-esteem, lack of confidence, feeling worthless, inadequate or a ‘failure’ as a mother.
- Feeling exhausted, empty, sad or tearful.
- Feeling out of control, or a sense of helplessness or hopelessness.
- Feeling nothing – numb.
- Feeling anxious or panicky.
- Fear for the baby (or of the baby). Fear of being alone or going out.
- Feelings of anger and resentment toward yourself and/or the baby that do not go away.
- Fear of being rejected, or unwanted by your partner.
- Having little energy, being lethargic, even when having regular sleep. Wanting to sleep all the time.
- Insomnia, unable to sleep – tired but yet can’t sleep (particularly in the early hours of the morning).
- Frequent nightmares.
- Lack of concentration, poor memory.
- Inability to think clearly, or make decisions.
- Lack of interest or pleasure in usual activities.
- Not interested in relating to others.
- Reduced interest in having sex.
- Loss of appetite as the depression worsens. Mild depression may be associated with ‘comfort eating’ for some women.
- Not motivated to want to do anything.
- Withdrawing from social contact, lack of social confidence.
- Obsessive behavior- wanting to pace, walk or clean all the time. Some women will ‘over-emotionalise’ their cleaning activities. Making it something that helps them to regain control, to feel good about oneself or feeling a failure if it is not done.
- Not looking after usual personal hygiene.
- Inability to cope with the daily routine.
- Wanting to run away.
- Not wanting to be a mother – wishing to be someone else or that the child was older.
- Frightened about harming yourself and/or the baby.
- That the baby would be ‘better off without you’.
- Ideas about suicide.
- Worried about your partner leaving you, or harm and death coming to your partner, or the baby.
If you notice a few of these signs for short periods of time, this may be normal, and you probably do not have a severe problem. However, if you notice a combination of more than 4 signs for at least 2 weeks or more, especially feeling very ‘low’ or ‘flat’ and losing interest in your daily activities, you are probably depressed and need to seek help.
Some thoughts that women have shared
The following are some thoughts that women experiencing postnatal depression have shared:
- ‘I feel like crying all the time, but the tears won’t flow.’
- ‘I can’t stop crying.’
- ‘I can’t do this – I just can’t cope!’
- ‘I don’t know what is wrong, I just don’t feel happy anymore.’
- ‘I feel like I am in a deep dark hole, with no escape, like no one can reach me or help me.’v
- ‘I feel scared and anxious all the time.’
- ‘When I wake, I don’t want to face the day.’
- ‘I can’t get going – I have no energy.’
- ‘I am tired, but I can’t sit, eat, or sleep.’
- ‘I feel so irritable, angry, upset.’
- ‘I feel like a robot – I am just doing things automatically, I feel nothing, numb.’
- ‘I feel very alone.’
- ‘I don’t want to see anyone, do anything, what’s the point?’
- ‘ I feel ashamed and guilty. Everything I do is not right, I am a ‘bad’ mother.’
- ‘I feel very ugly and worthless, my baby would be better off without me.’
- ‘I’m not hungry.’
- ‘I can’t stop eating.’
- ‘I need to keep myself away from my baby, I am afraid I might hurt them.’
Because these feelings can seem very scary, or ‘wrong’ many women are often reluctant to verbalise them to others. However, these feelings are a normal part of a psychological illness, which needs to be dealt with in positive ways. Sharing what you are going through, with someone you trust can start you on the path to recovery. They are not reflective of how you are as a person, or the type of mother that you are.