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How to resolve post natal depression...or any depression for that matter!




*Trigger warning: suicide, post natal depression


The recent maternal mental health awareness week reminded me how, over thirty years ago, I found myself walking in the grounds of a mental health unit in the grips of an episode of severe post natal depression neither I, nor the medical professionals, seemed to understand or know how to treat.


The near-fatal experience for me was the start of a long personal journey to understand the causes of depression and an even longer professional journey to find better ways of resolving it. I wrote an article for Tiny Buddha about it several years ago...


Worryingly, the newspapers are still full of headlines about the ongoing inadequate support in this area and, sadly, the numbers of mothers suffering are actually going up, not down.


We now learn the rate of maternal death in the UK has risen by 15% in 10 years even though the Government’s ambition was to reduce maternal mortality in England by 50% by 2025.Instead of seeing a decrease, the numbers are sharply rising. At this rate, the Government's target will be very badly missed and too many women’s lives will continue to be lost.


The pills don't work


The medical model of treatment for PND is not working.Pills are not the answer; identifying the source of the depression is. We need to start viewing post natal depression through another, more helpful and hopeful, lens to begin to curb the rise. I wrote this article in 2014. Not much seems to have changed. I would still offer exactly the same advice to resolve PND now as I did then: make some lifestyle changes to get your emotional needs met.


 *Claire’s story


 Claire Turpin was let down by a mental health system ill equipped to identify and offer effective support and advice about how to get over depression for a woman who was in desperate need.  The Mail on Sunday reported ''A mother of twins who had longed to have children committed suicide because she thought she was an inadequate parent.Claire Turpin, 42, had struggled to conceive, eventually succeeding after lengthy fertility treatment. But she went on to become acutely depressed even though she was caring well for new-borns Jack and Eliza.


Three months after their birth, the married former hotel manager jumped from the top of a John Lewis multi-storey car park.An inquest heard Mrs Turpin had been referred to a mental health team and became ‘paranoid’ about social services wanting to take her babies away. Her mother, Kath Sugden, criticised the medical support she was given, telling the hearing ‘All that happened was that Claire went to the doctor and came home with another batch of tablets.  


I was expecting things to move a little bit faster. She should have had more and quicker help from the agencies. I saw her deteriorate over these few weeks day by day…'


Explaining PND through the ‘SAFE SPACE’ lens


Post natal depression can start from two weeks to several months after delivery. It often develops slowly, sometimes making it difficult for doctors to diagnose and hard for the mother herself to recognise. There are various theories about what causes the problem. Biological, psychological and social factors can all play a role. However, viewed through a 'SAFE SPACE' emotional needs lens, it is easy to understand how PND can occur for the very same reasons that all depression occurs; unmet needs.


The greater the number of needs not met, the greater the emotional distress. It's as simple as that. Emotional discomfort is the brain's attempt to get your attention and communicate that your current lifestyle is not working and you need to make some changes. If you suspect that you, or someone you know, may be suffering from post natal depression (or any depression) check out which emotional needs are not being met from the following list: 


Safety and security

It is common to lose confidence in your abilities as a new mother. Emotional distress can lead to a feeling of being unsafe. Both mind and body can seem unpredictable and outside your control. Some mothers have troubling thoughts that their babies may be taken away. They are wary of opening up to doctors or health visitors as they are frightened of being viewed as an unfit mother.


Attention

Depression interrupts the ability to give and receive attention. A severely depressed person becomes 'selfish' inasmuch as they are focused on their self and their internal processes. This can lead to more feelings of guilt and inadequacy.


Fun, family friends

For a new mother at home with one or more babies, it can seem that life is all work and no play.This contrast is all the more difficult for those mothers who have previously been fully engaged in a work environment which was sociable and intellectually stimulating and can lead to a greater sense of isolation.


Emotional connection to others

Emotional and physical isolation impacts well-being. Feeling confined at home all day with only a baby for company can, in itself, be a source of depression.


Status and feeling valued

We all love a pat on the back but being a good mother and home-maker are not appropriately valued by our society. People tend to notice when it's not being done well but just don't notice and offer praise when it is well done.For this reason, mothers can feel invisible. The contrast between the work environment and home environment could not be starker. A sense of loss of status can be a significant factor in depression.


Privacy

There is very little room for privacy, or time to relax and unwind alone with a new baby around.Sleep is also often in short supply which can have a significant effect on well being and the ability to cope. Everything just feels a lot easier if you can get enough quality sleep.


Achievement

We all love to have a sense of achievement and women who are high achievers are often perfectionists. But anyone who has had the job of looking after small babies will understand the incompatibility of perfectionism and childcare. Anything less than perfect may feel unacceptable to some mums.


But 'less than perfect' is the realistic option. Donald Winnicott's notion of the 'good-enough' mother is not only more achievable but infinitely preferable.


Control

Autonomy and control fly out of the window where childcare is concerned. It is impossible to completely control babies who can seem unpredictable at best, chaotic at worst.


Engagement

The isolation of a new mother, both social and psychological can have a huge impact. An early reaction to depression is a tendency to retreat but less social support simply compounds the problem. 


Take action


If you are a new mum you might now have a bit more of an idea about why you might be feeling low. So do whatever you need to do to bring more balance into your life. Many people say they will do x or y when they feel better. But it's the doing that makes you feel better. Take proactive steps to adjust your life and get back on track. Just one small change can make a big difference.


Try these simple steps for starters: 


  • Practise a relaxed breathing technique for five or ten minutes twice a day to calm anxiety and promote better quality sleep. A relaxed mum often equals a relaxed baby.

  • Get enough full spectrum light to raise your mood by getting outdoors every day for at least twenty minutes. This will good for baby too. Daylight regulates the body clock for you both.

  • While you are adjusting to your new circumstances, seek out as much support as you can from friends, family and professionals.


Finally, cut yourself some slack and let go of the idea that you have to be perfect.


Babies also have innate needs. Having a high-achieving, super-slim mother and designer home are certainly not amongst them! 


Elevate your skills

 

The 2024 Fusion Therapeutic Coaching Diploma and Master Coach programme is full but you can still access the NCFE accredited Skills Certificate at the reduced price of £455 (deductible from the cost of the Diploma should you later enrol) Follow this link for immediate purchase of your Skills Workbook.

 

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