On the occasion of the World Maternal Mental Health Day, the German Depression Aid Foundation draws attention to the fact that 10-15% of women develop postpartum depression after birth. Although postpartum depression is easy to treat, many affected women do not seek help - out of shame or because the depression is not recognized. Suicides are therefore one of the leading causes of death for young mothers in industrialized countries.
Depression during pregnancy and after childbirth, like in other phases of life, is characterized by a depressed mood, sleep disorders, feeling exhausted, profound joylessness and hopelessness.
Neither grief nor tender feelings towards the child can be perceived. This is associated with excruciating self-reproaches for not being a good mother. "With postpartum depression there is a risk that affected mothers and relatives misinterpret the symptoms such as exhaustion, decreased appetite or sleep disorders in response to the birth and care of the child and therefore do not seek medical help," explains Prof. Ulrich Hegerl, Chairman of the Board of the Foundation German Depression Aid. In addition, the sick mother suffers from hopelessness, shame and feelings of guilt. Education about postpartum depression e.g. in birth preparation courses is therefore important.
"Every mother needs to know that postpartum depression is not a personal failure or lovelessness, but a serious illness that requires consistent treatment," continues Hegerl.
Postpartum depression is treatable
It is important to get professional help quickly if you experience postpartum depression. It almost always succeeds in getting the depressive episode to subside within a few weeks. The main pillars of treatment are medication and psychotherapy. Drug treatment with antidepressants is the quickest way to improve the symptoms. Breastfeeding is usually compatible with drug treatment. So-called cognitive behavioral therapy has the best evidence of effectiveness among psychotherapy procedures.
The aim of psychotherapeutic measures is to cope with the symptoms of the disease by educating them about the disease, supporting them in dealing with the new situation, and avoiding constant brooding and excessive self-reproach. After the depression has subsided, the positive feelings towards the child appear automatically. In some cases, it is also helpful to involve a midwife, social worker or various other care services (e.g. household help, child care through the health insurance company). If inpatient treatment of the mother is necessary in the case of severe postpartum depression, some clinics offer a hospital stay for the mother and the child.
What relatives can do
Relatives often play an important role in organizing medical help for the affected mothers as quickly as possible. The sick usually lack the necessary energy and hope. “But the partner should also know that he is not to blame for the depression, nor is he responsible for the healing. To put it bluntly: You can't cure depression with love any more than appendicitis, ”explains Prof. Ulrich Hegerl. Nevertheless, it is a great help for the women concerned to have partners and family members at their side who patiently encourage and support lovingly.
Midwives, gynecologists and psychiatric specialists can be a first point of contact for suspected postpartum depression. You can get information online at www.deutsche-depressionshilfe.de. A list of self-help groups and clinics with mother-child offers can be found at: www.schatten-und-licht.de