While seeking treatment for any condition should never be met with judgment, it can feel this way for many women facing antenatal depression. Asking for necessary help can be especially daunting. Even with 15-25% of pregnant women experiencing antenatal depression, many people are unaware of the dangers associated with depression, and the many safe options for treatment. Despite their proven effectiveness and safety, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and lifestyle changes are often unexplored options, as many women fear being diagnosed with a condition that may require medication. In this conclusion to our series on antenatal depression, we’ll examine how to ask for help from providers, family members, and other support systems. Learning to manage the symptoms of depression during pregnancy can be lifesaving to both the expectant mother and unborn child. It also develops necessary support strategies for postpartum depression, should it develop.
Acknowledge The Risk
Women with a history of depression, whether treated or untreated, are at a higher risk for depression during pregnancy. While this may seem like a disadvantage, these women will have a familiarity with depression that many expectant mothers do not possess. This can help determine whether symptoms are due to pregnancy or something more. It is important to acknowledge this risk as early as possible, whether one is considering becoming pregnant, currently pregnant while on medication or undergoing treatment, has had a diagnosis of depression in the past, or depression has been suspected in the past. Starting this conversation with a healthcare team as early as possible can help identify signs, compose a plan, and begin early treatment as necessary.
Know What to Say
There are many ways to broach the topic of depression. Any of the following can be combined to help start this potentially life-saving process:
Identify Your Support Team
Now is an essential time to partner with others who can help. Partners, parents, family members, friends, doctors, coworkers, and religious organizations may be options. For mothers who feel isolated, resources like the Postpartum Support International Warmline will work to identify a community of support for women in both the antenatal and postpartum stages.
Find the Right Tools
Tools like the Edinburgh Postnatal Scale, while marketed towards postpartum depression, can help determine if symptoms are typical for pregnancy or may be linked to depression. Women who suspect they are experiencing antenatal depression should bring a printed copy to their next appointment, and bring a member of their support team to speak for them if necessary. For women who are more comfortable having this conversation in writing, composing a letter or e-mail can be helpful. Bring a printed copy with you to your next appointment. Realize that you are not the first to experience antenatal depression, and that your doctor is there to assist you in achieving optimal health for you and your baby.
Use Your Voice
Pregnancy can be a whirlwind of loss of control. Shifting hormones, nausea, and wild food cravings would make anyone feel unbalanced. Antenatal depression can add to this upheaval, and leaves most women feeling unhinged. During most antenatal checkups, doctors will ask for a list of symptoms. This is a great opportunity to share any of the discomforts or symptoms of antenatal depression. Try saying the following:
I have noticed a significant change in my quality of life.
My moods have been irregular.
I am exhausted all of the time.
I am having difficulty caring for myself.
I need help.
Don’t Give Up
Some practitioners are uncomfortable treating antenatal depression, and will avoid the topic entirely if possible. For women encountering resistance, finding help can be even more challenging. Even if you feel discouraged, keep asserting yourself and leaning on your support. If one doctor refuses to acknowledge your condition, seek help from a therapist in your area or online. Refuse to suffer in silence for the sake of yourself and your child.
Know That You Are Already A Parent
Admitting that you are depressed can be difficult. Admitting this while pregnant can seem like an insurmountable task. Societal attitudes towards pregnancy and motherhood can cause many women to live with a façade of happiness, when internally they are struggling. Antenatal depression can cause expectant mothers to doubt their ability to care for their children. If this fear is familiar to you, consider asking for help as the first act of care towards your child. You’re already a parent, and this is an act of love. You’re taking a positive step to ensure the health and development of your baby, and managing your own health at the same time. Most people wouldn’t think twice about a pregnant women seeing a doctor for a respiratory condition or sprained ankle. Antenatal depression needs to be viewed the same way! You would not want your child to suffer unnecessarily, and you shouldn’t suffer either.
If you or someone you love is suffering from any of the symptoms of antenatal depression, be sure to reach out to a doctor or helpline. Seeking help is an act of love, not weakness. There are entire communities dedicated to helping you get through this time in a positive, healthy way for both you and your child.