As patients are often in denial about their depression, the onus is on loved ones to get help. Here’s how…

Used to be, people believed that pregnancy hormones protected women against depression. In fact, it was thought that new mums were susceptible to depression only after giving birth. Not anymore.

According to psychiatrist Dr Lim Boon Leng of Dr BL Lim Centre for Psychological Wellness, one in 10 pregnant women in Singapore suffer from prenatal depression.

Also commonly referred to as antenatal or pre-partum depression, Dr Lim notes that like all other psychiatric conditions, its causes are unknown. “Prenatal depression is likely to be due to multiple factors including hormonal changes in pregnancy causing changes in brain biochemistry, personal problems, financial issues and relationship problems.”

The following mums-to-be are at a higher risk of suffering from prenatal depression:
* They belong to a lower social or economic status.
* They’re less educated.
* They’re unemployed.
* They’re single.
* They receive little family and social support.
* They’re having an unplanned pregnancy.
* They live with a violent partner.
* They have a history of child abuse.

Dr Lim adds that statistics also show that mums-to-be are twice more likely to suffer from prenatal depression than postnatal depression. “An individual with prenatal depression is [also] more likely to develop perinatal depression.” He offers important facts about prenatal depression…

What are the symptoms of prenatal depression?
The signs are not unlike any other depressive episode [or disorder]. The individual will feel low in her mood, lose interest in the things around her, have weight and sleep disturbances, have poor concentration, have low energy level, have low self-esteem and may develop suicidal thoughts.

“While it’s true to say that the brain can at times heal itself, leaving prenatal depression untreated and recovery to chance can be dangerous. As such, I will not recommend it.”

How can family members make sure their loved one gets the necessary treatment?
It’s best to seek help early but this can sometimes be tough if the patient is in denial. Patiently explain to the sufferer that seeking help is not just in her best interest but for her baby, too. Whilst she may not wish to seek treatment for herself, she is likely to agree for the baby’s sake.

Can prenatal depression disappear on its own, especially after the pregnant woman gives birth?
While it’s true to say that the brain can at times heal itself, leaving prenatal depression untreated and recovery to chance can be dangerous. As such, I will not recommend it.

As there’s the risk the victim might be feeling suicidal?
Yes. Suicidal ideation or para-suicidal behaviour [making attempts to commit suicide] as well as [actual] suicide are consequences of untreated depression.

If a woman has attempted suicide, how can loved ones keep her safe?
Make an appointment to see a psychiatrist and if there are substantial risks, arrangements can be made for the expectant mothers to be admitted and placed under observation to ensure her safety.

How can family members ensure the mother-to-be doesn’t develop depression?
Being willing to take up more household responsibilities and alleviating the stress of the pregnant woman will really help a lot. This can include certain house chores, grocery shopping or taking care of the other children. Family can also lend a listening ear and understand the fears of the pregnant mum. Allowing her to ventilate is helpful even if they cannot offer much advice. Most importantly, understand that child bearing and child birth involves not only the expectant mum but the whole family. Taking this journey together as a family, staying united and being supportive will help prevent depression.

Photo: iStock

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