Postnatal depression still considered 'normal'

12:0AM, Jul 8th 2010

Depression is considered a normal part of pregnancy and giving birth, a new study has found.

Postnatal depression
Postnatal depression or the baby blues?

Depression is considered a normal part of pregnancy and giving birth, a new study has found.

The study, conducted by mental health group BeyondBlue, reported 57 percent of respondents in a nationwide study believed postnatal depression was caused by women having unrealistic expectations of motherhood, The Age reported. A further 25 percent believed postnatal depression would go away without any formal treatment.

"If people think that depression is a normal consequence of pregnancy, they're less likely to seek help," BeyondBlue's deputy chief executive officer Dr Nicole Highet told The Age. "This has important implications for the detection and treatment of depression, given that one in 10 women will experience this illness while pregnant."

Dr Highet found the results of the study concerning, noting there is still public confusion about the difference between postnatal depression and the baby blues. The baby blues are caused by changes in hormone levels up to 10 days after birth, during which new mums are often very emotional, The Age reported.

Unlike the baby blues, which ease as hormone levels return to normal levels, postnatal depression does not disappear naturally and women suffering from this disorder will need medical treatment, Dr Highet said.

Treatment for postnatal depression can range from psychological treatment, while extreme cases can require drugs.

"A lot of postnatal depression might be just put down to the normal part of having a baby. [Then] it wouldn't be picked up early, it wouldn't be treated early and it may become more severe," Dr Highet said.

"The faster you detect it and treat it, the faster the woman recovers. It's easier to treat mild or moderate depression than when it becomes severe."

The survey found people were very sympathetic towards women suffering from postnatal depression, with 92 percent of participants agreeing women who suffered from the condition could still be good mothers. This figure, however, declined in the 55-years and over category, which Dr Highet told The Age was another reason sufferers might not seek treatment as their mothers or mothers-in-law might believe it to be a case of "not coping" rather than an actual medical condition.

BeyondBlue's survey results are a part of a new campaign to raise awareness of the condition. State and federal governments have committed $85 million over the next five years to better assess, treat and support women who suffer from postnatal depression.

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