During Mental Illness Awareness month this July special emphasis will be placed on the alarmingly high rates of depression globally and locally among women who are about to give birth (antenatal) and those who have given birth (postnatal).
According to the World Health Organisation, about 10% to 13% of women experience antenatal and postnatal depression globally, while in most developing countries the condition affects 20% of mothers.
In stark contrast, more than 40% of South African women suffer from the condition.
Shouqat Mugjenker, Mental Health Portfolio Manager for Pharma Dynamics says no woman is immune to ante- or postnatal depression, but research shows that women living in low to middle-income countries are at particularly high risk.
“The high burden of postnatal depression in SA, is likely as a result of women’s exposure to a number of risk factors, which could include poverty, intimate partner violence and the threat of HIV.
“Depression can affect new mothers in many different ways and can start a few months before giving birth or at any time within the first year after childbirth,” said Mugjenker.
“It may develop suddenly or over time.”
Most women feel tearful and anxious within the first few weeks after giving birth, which is completely normal and commonly referred to as the ‘baby blues’, but if feelings of sadness and low mood lasts longer than two to three weeks, it might be a sign of postnatal depression.
Postnatal depression puts both the mother and baby at risk since some moms could turn to smoking, drugs or alcohol to help them cope and as a result neglect caring for their new-borns, which makes early identification and treatment essential.
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Suffering from postnatal depression also makes it difficult to bond with your baby, which can make babies more stress reactive and difficult to soothe. This sets in motion a dangerous cycle for both moms and babies.
“Unfortunately, postnatal depression often goes undiagnosed as symptoms, such as loss of interest in life, lack of energy, increased irritability, persistent feelings of sadness, guilt and hopelessness are often dismissed or overlooked.
“New mothers have to deal with enormous change that range from fluctuating hormones to having to adjust both mentally and emotionally to the relentless demands of a baby.
“Many of the symptoms of depression such as lack of sleep, reduced or increased appetite, problems concentrating and tiredness are also associated with having a new baby in the home, which makes diagnosing even more difficult.”
Several studies highlight the gap that still exist in the detection of depression in pregnant women and new mothers in SA.
A number of screening tools have been tested in the country, but most are time-consuming and difficult to administer in busy, under-resourced maternal clinics.
“If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, consult your local clinic, GP or psychiatrist who will be able to confirm a diagnosis and advise on how best to manage the condition going forward.
“With the right help and treatment you will be able to care for yourself, other family members and your baby.”
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