For many women, there can be a sense of shame and fear associated with the stigma attached to Postpartum Mood Disorders (PMD). That stigma can discourage sufferers of Postpartum Depression from seeking help. This is unfortunate as PMD is a very treatable mental health issue that left untreated can lead to ongoing difficulties in parenting and relationships.
As a society, we have been programmed to expect the arrival of a baby to be the happiest time of a woman’s life. Women who suffer from PMD are often the most surprised when that is not the case. However, as many as 1 in 5 women experience mood disorders during pregnancy and up to 1 year after giving birth or adopting a baby. In recent years, much effort has been made towards reducing the stigma around all mental illness, including PMD. However, statistics are suspected to be larger due to women suffering, not getting the help they need due to lack of diagnosis, an inability to locate resources, or the fear and shame associated with their condition.
Individual psychotherapy and medication are two of the resources commonly used to treat PMD; support groups can also be very beneficial. A combined approach may provide the best outcome. The use of medications is something to be decided upon with a medical professional. Individual therapy and support groups are located within the community and can be easily accessed with only a call to a variety of sources.
Psychotherapy (“talk therapy”) involves working with a trained therapist who is knowledgeable around finding solutions and ways to cope with the lived experience of PMD. For many women, it can be the one place where they can talk about their experience without having to cover up how they are feeling in order to not feel judged. There are a number of types or forms of therapy that have been found effective with PMD, but two that stand out are Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
Interpersonal therapy works towards decreasing depressive symptoms and helps in developing more effective skills for coping with social and interpersonal relationships. It involves learning more about the nature of PMD and what the patient can expect in the recovery process. It also works towards defining specific problems such as the pressures of child care or interpersonal conflicts and setting realistic goals towards solving the issues.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy works towards understanding the relationship between thoughts, behaviours, and moods. While positive thinking is beneficial and is popularly referred to in our society, it is often not the only solution. CBT takes into account that although our thoughts influence mood and behavior people need to consider as many different angles on a problem as possible. Looking at the situation from many different sides – positive, negative and neutral – can lead to new conclusions and solutions.
Support groups are less structured, but can also be very beneficial. They provide the opportunity to come together to receive mutual support. Sometimes friendships develop that continue long after participation in the group providing long-term understanding and mutual support. Support groups also provide coping strategies and the ability to share and learn techniques and tools that have helped other participants.
For mothers diagnosed with PMD or those just feeling they are having a difficult time during the adjustment to motherhood, it is important to remember help is available. While it may appear everyone else has it perfectly together, the reality is 1 in 5 women are having a difficult time and they can benefit from treatment for this very treatable condition.
This article was written by a therapist at the The Family Enhancement Centre who has extensive experience working with children, youth, adults, couples and families and makes use of a broad range of interventions. Her experience and work with PMD has been with groups, and individuals.
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