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For many women, having a baby is a joyous and exciting time. But for women with postpartum depression — which refers to depression occurring after childbirth — it can become extremely difficult and distressing.
On Wednesday, actress Hayden Panettiere opened up about her struggles with addiction and postpartum depression in a joint interview with People and "Good Morning America." She told the outlets that she "was on top of the world and ruined it" and was in a "cycle of self-destruction."
"I'd think I hit rock bottom, but then there's that trap door that opens," the 32-year-old "Nashville" alum added. "There was just this grey colour in my life."
Panettiere isn’t alone in her mental health struggles surrounding pregnancy. According to the Vanier Institute for Maternal Mental Health in Canada, approximately 1 in 4 women have experienced postpartum depression in Canada, which can make patients feel helpless and isolated.
"It really is a serious issue that a lot of women experience, but not a lot of people discuss," Meg Lovell, a registered nurse at Victoria Hospital in London, Ont, tells Yahoo Canada. "If you or a loved one has symptoms of this depression, reach out to those around you put safe guards into place."
"I'd also recommend seeking advice of a medical practitioner for guidance on treatments like therapy, meditation and wellness practices," Lovell added. "These can help you boost mood and deal with the root issues causing your depression."
What is postpartum depression?
Postpartum depression is a mood disorder involving feelings of indifference and/or anxiety, extreme sadness and changes in appetite, sleep and energy.
According to the Canadian Perinatal Mental Health Collaborative (CPMHC), postpartum depression is a serious medical illness that arises as a result of childbirth.
This is not to be mistaken with the "baby blues" — a condition that does not interfere with a person's ability to perform daily activities and only lasts a week or two. Symptoms of the baby blues may include anxiety, irritability and restlessness but typically resolve on their own.
Postpartum depression can be physically and emotionally debilitating and can often last for many months. If you suspect you have this condition, it is important to seek immediate treatment.
What causes postpartum depression?
According to the Vanier Institute, postpartum depression is caused by a "complex interaction" of genetic and environmental factors.
Life stresses, such as demands at work or past traumas, the emotional and physical demands of childbirth and caring for a baby, and changes in hormones that occur during and after pregnancy can also contribute to the development of postpartum depression.
Who is at risk of postpartum depression?
The CPMHC says that postpartum depression is a serious medical illness that can affect any pregnant woman or mother—regardless of race, culture, age, income or education.
Although the condition can affect anyone during or after their pregnancy, risk factors include a lack of social support, an unwanted or difficult pregnancy, an ongoing health problem with the baby or the mother, and a history of physical or sexual abuse. Additionally, women with a personal or family history of anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder are more at risk.
It is important to note that women are not to blame for having postpartum depression: it is not brought on by anything a mother has or has not done intentionally.
What are the symptoms of postpartum depression?
According to the Vanier Institute, common symptoms include feeling worthless or guilty, difficulty concentrating, lack of interest in the baby, feeling sad or depressed, and thinking about death or suicide.
Other symptoms include changes in appetite, increased fatigue, loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, slowed movement or speech, and feelings of being a bad mother.
If you or a loved one are experiencing any of these symptoms during and/or after pregnancy, it's important to speak to a health care provider as soon as possible to determine if the symptoms are due to postpartum depression or something else.
How is postpartum depression treated?
Since postpartum depression is a medical condition, patients should see a healthcare provider or mental health professional to determine the appropriate treatment options. This is important for the health of the mother and the child, as postpartum depression puts both parties at risk. With proper care, almost all women who experience this depression can overcome their symptoms.
Treatment options include medication, therapy and lifestyle changes. If these treatments do not reduce symptoms, brain stimulation therapy is another avenue to consider. Additionally, the support of friends and family, exercise, rest, proper nutrition, and joining a support group for new mothers can be helpful.
Due to the stigma around postpartum depression, some people may find it difficult to seek help. Spouses, family members, partners and friends may be the first to recognize the condition in a new mother, and can offer essential emotional support.