Post Natal Depression
The first thing that can be said about post natal depression (PND) is that to the women who have suffered it and those women reading this article, who may be suffering from it, the effects of PND are distressing, debilitating and are very real.
PND is not uncommon; with up to ten per cent of all mothers affected to a greater or lesser degree. The incidence of PND is higher in the months immediately following childbirth but it is not unknown for a small number of women still to be suffering the effects a year after the birth of their child.
What is PND and what are its symptoms?
PND, for the non-medical professional, may be defined as a non-psychotic depression occurring during the first six months after the birth of a child. The term 'non-psychotic depression' for the lay person means that the mother does not suffer from hallucinations or delusions. These are the symptoms of a severe mental illness and require urgent specialist medical attention from a consultant psychiatrist.
PND, on the other hand, can affect all women after child birth but more often women who have a history of life events such as bereavements or a poor marital relationship which includes lack of support , feelings of 'having to manage on one's own,' coupled with a general perception of being isolated.
Another factor that adds to the pressure of some women who suffer from PND is that the family do not know how to react to the mother who is suffering and through lack of knowledge, and some cases, understanding, are dismissive of the problems faced by a woman after childbirth. This then creates a further spiralling of the helplessness some women undoubtedly feel, leading to a sense of inadequacy, not being able to cope, which inevitably leads to insomnia, anxiety and debility.
Additionally, other symptoms may be present including a difficulty in concentrating, a loss of confidence and self-esteem, not eating properly due to a lack of interest in food, and in extreme cases, recurring thoughts of death, or even suicide itself. With regards to the latter, it must be stressed that this is a very rare event and it may be that there are other underlying causes for such thoughts.
Whilst the mother is the direct sufferer of PND, it must not be forgotten that the behaviour of the patient can impact on the family or close loved ones, leading to tensions and stresses within the family group, which in turn re-impacts on the mother. This then becomes a self-perpetuating downward spiral of tension, misunderstanding and depression. Because of the potential devastating effects on the family life overall, it is important that the mother seek help as soon as possible. It is also not uncommon for a new mother to be in self denial about her problems but realistically the feelings of inadequacy normally will tell her that all is not well and therefore she should seek professional help.
PND and the working woman
Whilst PND has been recognised for sometime as a clinical condition, the effects on the family and society in general were not so pronounced in the years leading up to the war. During that period, between1940 and 1945, women were conscripted in large numbers to work in factories, munitions and to serve in the Armed Forces. This new role for women and the changes to society immediately following the war meant that women went to work as matter of course and became 'de facto' a joint, or second bread winner.
It is in this expanded role for women, in a working environment, that the fear of having a baby will in some way compromise her ability to fulfil this role. As a consequence, this can produce serious problems with depression immediately following the birth of the child.
In this context, therefore, the underlying problems which cause PND are accentuated by economic concerns or the loss of position in a Company or a job, should the mother have to take time away from her employment to attend antenatal classes, hospital appointments, etc. These pressures inevitably bring about a guilt complex whereby the mother is torn between the love and desire for her baby and fulfilling her role as a partner in a marriage or relationship.
It must not be assumed that the depression suffered by non-working mothers is any less severe or debilitating than that for women who work. It is only in the latter case, where secondary considerations may be involved that the depression may be accentuated or intensified.
It is very important for women suffering from PND to understand that they are not alone and help is available in many ways, from counselling, medication and complementary therapies. Firstly with respect to counselling, this can be done informally by the health visitor who can carry out a brief questionnaire to assess a woman's mental state and then offer appropriate support or non-directive counselling as 'active listening visits'. For many women, this will be sufficient to allow a full recovery in a matter of weeks. Secondly, if the symptoms do not subside, medication prescribed by the GP can help but, for those women who are worried about the side effects of any drug prescribed for depression, there are homeopathic remedies which can be used.
This is very important, because to a large number of people, there is unfortunately a stigma about being diagnosed with depression and seeking possible help. Because of this and of the reported problems associated, rightly or wrongly, with the drugs prescribed to combat depression, that homeopathy can be of such benefit.
Homeopathy and PND
I think it is important to state that when considering a homeopathic approach to the problems of PND, it should always be remembered that Homeopathy can do the patient no harm. Indeed, there is a large body of evidence to support the premise that it can make a substantial difference to the sufferer. As a practising NHS GP and with over ten years experience in homeopathy, I am able to look at the problem from both perspectives. Therefore, when I have a patient who is unwilling, unhappy or unable to tolerate conventional medication, I then recommend the homeopathic approach. However, before recommending ANY complementary medicine, I try to determine if there are any underlying social factors which will lead me to advise one treatment rather than another. Generally, I have a choice of four or five homeopathic remedies which have helped to bring about a marked improvement in the well being of the patient.
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