Post Natal Depression – confronting the truth

Post natal depression is a type of depression some parents can experience after giving birth. The NHS estimate that 1 in 10 mothers suffer from PND. Other reports show that this number could be even higher. The symptoms of PND can appear within the first four to six weeks after childbirth but could develop up to several months afterwards. The World Heath Organisation compared depression with angina, asthma, arthritis and diabetes and concluded that depression affects a person’s ability to function up to 50% more than another of the other four conditions.

In its simplest form mothers are diagnosed with PND if they are suffering from one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Low mood/miserable most of the time
  • Constantly exhausted
  • Feeling unable to cope
  • Feeling guilty about not being able to cope about not loving the baby enough
  • Overwhelming anxiety about the baby
  • Tearful for no reason
  • Difficulty in sleeping
  • No appetite or urge to eat
  • Difficulties in bonding with the baby
  • Difficulties in their relationship with their partner
  • Low energy levels
  • Low sex drive
  • Withdrawal from family and friends

There are varying degrees of post natal depression. Experiencing three of these symptoms is considered mild depression. Having five or six is described as moderate while more than six is diagnosed as severe depression. 1 in 1000 women suffer from postpartum psychosis, the most severe form of depression that causes erratic and delusional behaviour and requires urgent hospital treatment.
Whilst PND is a serious condition that needs to be treated there is a still a stigma attached to the condition along with a lack of understanding and available treatment. In the UK there are more mental health facilities for new mothers within prisons than are available to the public. A survey by 4Children found that out of over 2000 Mums questioned, 49% who had suffered from post natal depression had not sought professional treatment. 60% of those Mums said they did not feel their condition was serious enough to seek help while 12% felt they didn’t have enough information to ‘know what to do about it’. According to the 4Children study of the 50% of mothers who did get help waited at least three months to do so. 27% waited more than six months to get help.
For those who do seek help, the outcome can be mixed. As part of their ‘Suffering in Silence’ survey 4Children wrote to every Primary Care Trust (PCT) in England asking them a range of questions about their post natal depression patients. The questions asked were to establish the number of women suffering PND in their area, treatments available, waiting times and the treatments received. 186 organisations were contacted in total. 34% held no information at all which could help with the questions. Only 9% were able to provide the information about the number of women diagnosed with PND within their boundary. There was no information available for what treatment these women received. From the NHS Trusts only 9% were able to provide figures for the questions asked and of the 9% the figures displayed no correlation. One Trust reported that 1 woman had been diagnosed with PND in the entire year whilst another Trust confirmed 1,350 women were diagnosed over the same period. It is these inconclusive indicate that the NHS is not prioritising postnatal depression.
Elaine Hanzak suffered from the most extreme form of PND over 16 years ago. She was hospitalised and her child was put on social services’ ‘at risk’ register. She has since recovered and when we met her she was helping her son find a suit fr his end-of-year prom. Elaine now raises awareness of PND in hope of improving the care available to new mothers.

Elaine told Student Parents:

‘Ante-natal classes are actively encouraged by GPs, widely attended and are all geared towards the birth. No-one really prepares you for afterwards. To help Mums cope for after the birth, I think there needs to be almost statutory post natal classes. Not specifically to treat post natal depression but to help Mums cope if perhaps reality hasn’t matched up to their expectations, to help Mums deal with all the changes both physically and mentally. There are many new things that if Mums had the opportunity to talk about in those first few weeks after having a baby, I feel a lot of the anxieties that build up would be nipped in the bud’.

If you think you might be suffering from post natal depression or know someone who might need help please check the NHS Choices website here.
Or alternately Elaine’s website had an extensive list of helpful links.


Photo courtesy of

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