Everyone experiences transient sadness associated with some particular distressing event. Some individuals may experience feelings of sadness and not be able to understand why they are experiencing these feelings. For the vast majority of people, these occasional issues with sadness or depressed mood resolve rather quickly or when the situation that is associated with them has passed. Normal variations in mood do not qualify as formal psychiatric/psychological disorders. The clinical notion of what constitutes a disorder is quite different than the day-to-day fluctuations in mood that most people experience.
Depression is a clinical syndrome that has several reliable signs/symptoms that can be assessed by trained healthcare professionals. In addition, nearly any type of psychological/psychiatric disorder will include some level of depressed mood. Ascertaining whether one has a formal depressive disorder, a different psychiatric/psychological disorder that includes aspects of depression, or is just experiencing relatively normal variations in mood requires expert training.
There are a number of different medical conditions that can result in the development of a clinical syndrome of depression. Some of these may involve reactions to being ill, and others may actually be due to the physiological effects of the medical condition, such as what occurs often in individuals who have strokes. One such condition occurs in women following the birth of a child.
According to the book Postpartum Depression: Causes and Consequences, postpartum depression can affect women who have given childbirth between two weeks and the year following the birth of their child. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) includes postpartum depression in their list of depressive disorders; however, it is formally diagnosed as a subtype of major depression. According to APA, the symptoms of postpartum depression are similar to the symptoms of major depressive disorder and also include other symptoms, such as not wanting to care for one’s child, anger directed at one’s partner or child, and resentment about becoming pregnant.
An individual who has postpartum depression would formally be diagnosed with a major depressive disorder with peripartum onset, according to APA diagnostic criteria.
In order to receive a formal diagnosis of major depressive disorder, an individual must consistently demonstrate five or more specific diagnostic criteria (symptoms/signs) for a period of at least two weeks. One of the five symptoms must include depressed mood and/or a significant loss of one’s interests (or an inability to experience pleasure). As with all APA diagnostic criteria, the symptoms displayed cannot be due to the use of drugs or be better explained by the effects of a medical condition.
The major types of symptoms that are used to diagnose major depressive disorder include:
Postpartum depression is a manifestation of a clinical syndrome of major depressive disorder. Thus, it would differ from what many individuals experience as the “baby blues” in that postpartum depression is far more severe and results in a prolonged period of issues with normal functioning. However, women who have issues with anxiety and even experience the baby blues (short, less intense periods of sadness associated with being pregnant or giving birth) are at risk to develop postpartum depression. Nearly half of these episodes actually begin prior to the person giving birth to the child, and this is why the APA refers to postpartum depression as depression with peripartum onset (although this article will continue to use the more familiar term). The most common time for the development of these symptoms is within the first week to first month following the delivery of the child.
According to APA, there also instances where individuals with postpartum depression experience symptoms similar to bipolar disorder (alterations between depression and mania) and even psychosis (hallucinations, delusions, and other symptoms that signify that the person has lost contact with reality). If an individual has a postpartum depressive episode
with psychotic features, they are far more likely to develop similar experiences following subsequent pregnancies and deliveries. This complicates family-planning and long-term treatment implications for women wishing to have additional children.Figures indicate that postpartum depression may occur in up to 15 percent of mothers; occurs at equivalent rates across income level, age, and ethnicity; and is more likely to occur in mothers who have a history of depression or bipolar disorder. Other risk factors include experiencing stressful events before childbirth, the mother having mixed feelings about the pregnancy, or the mother perceiving that she lacks support from family or from her partner. It is generally believed that postpartum depression is also associated with levels of fluctuating hormones and neurotransmitters that occur as a result of other potential medical issues and with pregnancy and/or the delivery of the child.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has reported that nearly 15 percent of women who are less than a year from the birth of their child and had postpartum depression engaged in binge drinking, whereas nearly 9 percent of this group reporting abusing other drugs. These prevalence rates are higher than women who did not give birth or who did give birth but did not have postpartum depression.
There is still a lack of research that examines the overall causal relationship between substance use disorders and postpartum depression; however, it is well known that the combination of depression and substance abuse can lead to an increased rate of neglect and child abuse in these situations. These factors make the importance of recognizing these syndromes in women who have given birth and treating them even more crucial.