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Overview of Postpartum Depression – a Form of Clinical Depression

Postpartum depression (PPD) is a subtype of clinical depression which in most cases affects women after having given birth. The signs of postpartum depression include irritability, lost appetite and sexual desire, insomnia, anxiety, and fatigue. Despite many clinical trials and research studies, the causes of postpartum depression remain unclear, but the treatment usually consists of only counseling. Most clinicians opt for Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale to assess the symptoms and provide a diagnosis. When it comes to the frequency of the disorder, it affects anywhere between 5 and 25 percent of new mothers. A wide range in prevalence is mostly due to different kinds of methodological approaches employed in research studies. Some experts suppose that almost 80 percent of new mothers experience some sort of mood change following the birth of a child. In the majority of cases the symptoms are fairly mild and disappear with time. Also, postpartum depression occurs usually within a few days after giving birth and lasts for up to a couple of weeks, and during this time in many cases interferes with the mother’s ability to tend to her child. Many clinicians do not consider postpartum depression an illness as it is fairly widespread, does not require particular kinds of treatment, and recedes on its own. Only if there has been a history of depression coupled with the postpartum symptoms that are still present after an unusual period of time will medical care professionals treat it as a disorder. There are some rare cases in which postpartum depression escalates to postpartum psychosis, a disorder that commands treatment without delay. Aside from the symptoms of depression, the postpartum psychosis is characterized by delusional thinking and hallucinations. Individuals with a history of bipolar disorder and psychotic episodes are at a higher risk of developing postpartum psychosis than the general population.

Risk Factors for Developing PPD

Although the root cause of postpartum depression remains unknown, various factors have been distinguished as possible triggers for the disorder. For instance, unwanted pregnancy, coupled with financial instability can in many cases induce PPD. Being a single parent or not having adequate support from the partner also contributes to numerous problems for new moms. Women who are prone to depression, are smokers, and have self-esteem issues are at a higher risk for developing postpartum depression. In case the child’s personality is not compatible to that of the mother, it is probable that the woman will feel despair. It should be noted that these factors are only strongly associated with the disorder, but do not necessarily cause it. Both low self-esteem and postpartum depression could result from a third, unidentified element. Also, PPD is most prevalent in African-American women, followed by Native Indian, and Caucasian, with the least likely subjects being Latino and Asian mothers. Regardless of the previously mentioned factors, such as financial stability, smoking, and a constructive relationship with the father of the newborn, African American women are still a group which is affected most often. There are many studies that isolate only a few elements, such as being Native American and of low financial status, or being African American and prone to unwanted pregnancies, and regardless of the combination of the variables, the results yield similar conclusions for all factors significant in postpartum depression. For instance, many studies have also found than homosexual and bisexual mothers are more prone to developing the disorder compared to their heterosexual counterparts. Many experts postulate that the reason behind such findings lies in the fact that homosexual and bisexual mothers have weaker support systems, and are subjected to constant discrimination.

Prevention and Outlook

When it comes to prevention, the safest pathways include abundance of information about the possible risk factors as well as the willingness to consciously reduce one’s exposure to the triggers. Many medical facilities provide screening tests to conclude whether the patient is predisposed to developing postpartum depression. In Alberta, Canada, for instance, medical centers perform screening of all new mothers for the symptoms of PPD. Any kinds of activities which are known to prevent major depression, such as eating healthy, engaging in physical activities on a regular basis, as well as having a strong support system do help in preventing postpartum depression. In general, the outlook of postpartum depression is fairly positive, with most symptoms disappearing after a couple of months at the most. The disorder should be closely monitored as if left untreated can lead to the deprivation of a positive relationship between mother and child. There have been some relatively rare cases in which the depressed mothers have hurt their children, but most of those were the instances involving individuals who were suffering from postpartum psychosis. Detecting the problems early as well as providing support for the depressed mother play a significant role in dealing with postpartum depression.

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