Surviving Postnatal Depression

You are not alone

Many articles have been written to assist women determine whether or not they have postnatal depression. This article serves as a resource for mothers who, having already identified it, want to know more about how to live through postnatal depression.

At the outset it is important to note that a variety of strategies will help different individual women. What is also important to note is that there is help available and that you will get through to the other side.

Living with postnatal depression can range from merely surviving each day with your head feeling like it is in a cloud, to having difficulty making decisions to not functioning at all and believing that the world would be better off without you. Many women struggle with the first step in coming to terms with living with postnatal depression, which is to believe that you actually do need and most importantly deserve help. Once a woman has made that decision, there is the issue of where to look for help and what exactly will work.

Recent research indicates that medication on its own is not effective in treating depression. Evidence suggests that medication is best administered in combination with talk therapy, so it is important that women establish a relationship with an expert perinatal therapist whilst undertaking anti depression medication treatment, to ensure optimum results.

Individual psychodynamic psychotherapy provides a foundation to work through the fundamental issues that are at the core of postnatal depression. Often times these emerge as a strained, distant or absent relationship with the new parent's own Mother, difficulties in their current marriage or significant relationship, highly organised women who identify with the term 'perfectionist', older women who are having their first baby later in life and not adjusting to the situation as well as they had hoped, also long term IVF clients often find the experience of a new family addition does not meet their expectations.

In my experience the CBT method of changing thought patterns that are involved with faulty thinking can be helpful in the first instance but do not allow enough scope to discover the deeply rooted triggers that are affecting the new parenting experience. I find the dynamic of working one to one with women on the root causes of their unhappiness is a far gentler - and yet still empowering - way of assisting women who suffer with a perinatal mood disorder.

Living with PND can be crippling. For this reason, it is important that you have a list of phone numbers for friends, help lines, doctors and loved ones handy so that you can reach out and get the support you need, when you need it. Getting in touch with someone who listens to how things are for you will ease your distress. It is essential that you reveal your thought processes at the time. When others know that you need help, they will step in. Often, Mothers hold back on asking for help because they are afraid of seeming incompetent as "surely they should be able to do this!" Or they are afraid that the person they reach out to will say no, which will leave them more devastated than they were originally.

Group support can be very beneficial to women who are struggling with the day to day realities of being a parent. Mothers' groups however can be a bit of a hit and miss affair, leaving many women feeling down and out rather than supported and normal. Even the most competent new Mother can feel the undercurrent of competition within a group.

Group support is a useful way to normalise the parenting experience, however I would advise women who are experiencing some sort of perinatal mood disorder to find a professionally facilitated support group. In NSW, the Baby and Beyond Supported Playgroup provides men and women an opportunity to discuss the realities of parenting through the structure of group therapy. The Group therapy I have established involves a male therapist who co-facilitates the group with me. Together we explore the interpersonal relationships that form, as well as providing some education on depression, anxiety and the importance of self care. Meanwhile, a qualified child care worker offers structured activities for the children and monitors how the children are coping in the parent-infant relationship.

One of the benefits of group therapy is that members of the group are encouraged to provide a support network to each other outside group time. Members have indicated that it is often easier to reach out to someone who has experienced the pain and frustration of PND first hand than it is to try and explain how they are feeling to a loved one or friend.

Katrina's Story

"I never knew that the way I was feeling had a name that went with it. I kept it to myself for a long time and didn't tell anyone that I really wasn't enjoying this experience of Motherhood. I just assumed that I was bad at being a Mum and that if I let people know they would judge me and think badly of me.
I would wake some days and feel as though I had a large black cloud over my head. My thoughts were fuzzy and vague. Even the simplest task felt like a herculean effort. Some days I didn't get out of bed, I mean I would pretend I did, see my husband off and then return to bed for the day leaving the room only to change a nappy or get some food, until I needed to get ready for my husband's arrival home.
I hated answering the phone and talking about how things were, I could just never muster up enough enthusiasm to mask the way I was feeling. I left the phone off the hook a lot. Fortunately for me I had a friend who had suffered with post natal depression and she came around one day "for coffee" and to ask me how I really was. She shared with me that she had not coped well at all, that her experience involved similar symptoms to me as well as feeling very very angry. I admitted the cracks that were forming within every facet of my life including my relationship with my husband. It was so great to hear that someone else had felt the same way.

We went along to the Baby and Beyond Supported Playgroup and it was here that I had the opportunity to talk to other parents. Discovering that you are not alone is a big relief. I even brought my husband along to some of the playgroups and he was encouraged to speak about his experience of both having a new baby and the challenges that brings as well as what it was really like to live with me while I was feeling down.
The one thing that started to occur to me when I attended the group was that PND wasn't a life sentence. It was manageable. I saw some women deal with it by combining therapy with medication and some women who opted for therapy alone. All of us were encouraged to find some time for ourselves, which sounds cliché now, but I really needed to be reminded that I had needs, and that it was okay to attend to them.
The one thing I would say is that there are good days and bad days. The best thing about being in a group of people who aren't always pretending that everything is wonderful, is that being 'real' is not only acceptable - it is encouraged!"

Posted on 05 February 2009 in - Library - Anxiety and Depression - Family and Parenting - Therapy

Melissa Hughes

Back to Library

At a glance

types of therapy

What is good therapy?

Therapists explore the experiential narratives and existential philosophies that underpin their attitudes and approaches to therapy.



Contributions from writers, artists, philosophers and poets, exploring the questions that help us understand what it means to be human



Practitioners and Friends are invited to be part of the Good Therapy community... learn more about how you can be involved.



Professional and personal development, training workshops, and conferences for psychotherapists, counsellors and psychologists