Depression occurs in women twice as often as in men. Rates of seasonal affective disorder and chronic depression in women are also higher. While alcohol and substance abuse in conjunction with depression is lower in women, depressed women suffer more often from eating disorders, migraine headaches, and anxiety disorders. Women are also more likely than men to seek help for their symptoms.
Postpartum psychosis is relatively rare. Postpartum depression (also called postnatal depression) is not. Approximately 10 to 20% of new mothers suffer from postnatal depression. This makes it one of the leading causes of depression in women.
In June of 2001, Houston mother Andrea Yates drowned her five young children, who ranged in age from six months to seven years. She had been undergoing treatment for postpartum depression for the last two years. Some professionals speculated that her depression might have become so severe that she suffered an attack of postpartum psychosis, which may have led to the tragedy.
Baby Blues vs. Postnatal Depression
Postpartum depression is often confused with the “baby blues”—that feeling of being overwhelmed, combined with the sudden mood swings that occur after the birth of a child. Just after birth, a woman’s hormonal levels change. Couple this with the intense demands of caring for a newborn, and the baby blues is the result. A week or so of the blues is fairly normal. If the signs of depression last longer, or if the mother seems likely to harm the baby, immediate medical attention is called for.
Postnatal Depression Symptoms
- Excessive sleep
- Increased crying
- Feelings of worthlessness, like a “bad mother”
- Low energy level
- Sudden weight fluctuations
- Suicidal thoughts
- Thoughts of hurting the baby
Beyond Postpartum Depression
While postpartum depression in women is common, it isn’t the only mood disorder suffered by women. Anxiety disorders occur with some frequency, sometimes manifested in obsessive cleanliness or panic attacks. Often, anxiety disorders go hand-in-hand with depression.
Women with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) suffer the symptoms of depression only during the premenstrual period or these symptoms will become more severe during this period. PMDD is a debilitating condition affecting 3 to 5% of women and manifests itself as a combination of depression and anxiety coupled with both physical and mental symptoms. Unfortunately, women often mistake PMDD for PMS (premenstrual syndrome) and don’t seek help. If you are experiencing debilitating premenstrual symptoms talk with your doctor about treatment.