6 postnatal depression “facts” you should ignore

SmartParents clears up the confusion surrounding this post-delivery mental disorder, so that women can get the treatment they need.

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When you give birth, you don’t just bring a new life into the world, you’re also opening a floodgate of feelings. First, there is pure love, joy and excitement as you meet your new baby. Next to kick in is the sheer exhaustion from being in labour for that many hours. To top it all, there’s also some anxiety about the unknown now that baby is here. 

This cocktail of emotions, coupled with the post-partum bodily injuries you’re recovering from can easily trigger another kind of emotion as well ― postnatal depression (PND).

While not much is known on how and why some women suffer from PND, one thing is certain ― as many as 20 per cent of mothers are at risk of this particular type of depression.

If undetected, PND can result in mothers who never fully bond with their children or who allow their unresolved feelings to affect their daily life and relationships with others. PND is also a very lonely and isolating experience for a woman, which can cause her to literally lose her grip and take her own life, or worse, her baby’s.

PND is real, but the facts that surround it are not always straightforward. To create a culture of acceptance, we first need to separate fact from fiction. This way, we’ll know exactly how how to help someone who is dealing with this disorder.

Here’s how to respond the next time you hear one of these misconceptions about PND.

This is why it’s [PND] often called the smiling depression, because you simply plaster a positive look on your face and get on with your mummy duties.

Myth #1 : PND looks like normal depression

Very often, PND does look like normal depression ― the signs and symptoms are similar as well. These include feeling low and numb, crying constantly, not finding pleasure in things you used to enjoy and feeling disconnected from the baby.

However, there are specific differences between normal depression and PND. The biggest is that a woman with PND often looks like she’s coping. This is why it’s often called the smiling depression, because you simply plaster a positive look on your face and get on with your mummy duties.

“You have a baby to breastfeed, you have to take care of baby’s needs and be active. So, it doesn’t look like a normal depression where you have this idea of a woman crying under the covers and not going to work,” explains counsellor Silvia Wetherell, who specialises in maternal mental health. “On the outside, a new mother with PND may look like she’s fine and she’s coping and this is why it makes it harder to diagnose as well.”

Myth #2 : If you ignore PND, it will go away

“This is the biggest myth!” Wetherell exclaims. “And people around you will rather blame it on the hormones and feeling tired.” When a woman’s feelings get discounted, it doesn’t make her problems go away ― it only exacerbates it.

What makes it even worse, according to Wetherell, is how other women around this PND-plagued mum ignore her feelings with their own “survival stories.” “This woman’s mum, her mother-in-law or aunt may say things like, ‘Oh I got through it with 5 kids, so you will get through it. You need to be stronger and suffer through it’.”

While it comes off as well-meaning tough love, Wetherell points out that these women are dealing with their own unresolved feelings regarding motherhood and how difficult it was for them. So, instead of being a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on, they think the best way to help is to perpetuate an “I survived and so should you, it’s just the way it is” attitude.  

“It’s good to see things are changing slowly in Singapore, but unfortunately, there isn’t much space for acceptance or family support when it comes to postpartum depression, notes Wetherell. “For a woman to want to get help in itself takes courage, so when she has to deal with all this, it makes things even worse.”

Myth #3: PND is a sign of weakness

The sad truth is that most people consider mental health as a “mind over matter” situation. In other words, all you have to do is toughen up and you will get through depression. This means that if you don’t just that, you’re seen as weak.

Wetherell couldn’t disagree more about this popular way of thinking and shares a convincing analogy to counter this notion. “You wouldn’t say that to someone who’s broken their leg. That you just need to get up and be strong. Why are you complaining for? The thing about mental health is that you can’t see it, so you can’t take it seriously ― there’s no broken leg, so it’s not real,” she points out.