We often talk about postnatal depression in women but lately I’m hearing about more and more women struggling with both stress and depression when they are trying to conceive and during their pregnancy. Some women are lucky and conceive straight away, but for others trying for a baby can lead to years of stress, fertility treatments and, in some cases, depression.
According to the HSE, depression affects one in four women at some point in their life. It often occurs when women are in their 20s and 30s, when they may also be considering having children. Fertility treatment can cause you to live month to month, trying to balance and navigate a tight schedule of tests and treatments. This can be incredibly difficult even for the most resilient among us.
This journey can not only start to erode your self-confidence, but it can also affect your friendships and lifestyle, too. You can feel sad and scared, and for many life can spiral out of control, which is why it’s important to ‘mind yourself’. At times this is easier said than done, but eating well, exercising, keeping a gratitude journal, practising mindfulness and meditation, doing fun activities with your partner and spending time with friends can all help.
The most important thing to remember is to share your feelings. If you feel you can’t speak to your partner, finding a good therapist might help you to navigate your way through your emotions. Personally, I find it easier to talk to someone I don’t know who lends a non-judgmental ear, and counselling can sometimes help you to see things more clearly.
Researchers are not sure if mental health can affect fertility, although it is very clear that infertility can affect mental health! It is possible, though, that high levels of depression, anxiety and stress can affect the hormones that regulate ovulation.
If you have been trying for a baby for a long time and you finally become pregnant but the dark cloud doesn’t lift, please don’t be too hard on yourself. Pregnancy is an emotional time when hormones are rampaging through your body and they could be causing a bit of trouble on top of everything else.
Prenatal depression can present with symptoms such as:
- Sleep problems
- Feeling irritable in yourself and with those around you
- Feeling fearful of the future
- Appetite loss
- Being tired all the time
- Becoming withdrawn
For other women pregnancy might be unplanned, uncomfortable or complicated so there are many reasons you might start to feel down. This isn’t helped by the myth that pregnant women should be happy all the time. Out of the estimated 33 per cent of women who will suffer from depression at this time, this myth can lead to 20 per cent not asking for help because they feel scared or ashamed, says Healy Smith, a reproductive psychiatrist.
Prenatal depression can be a precursor to postpartum depression if it isn’t properly treated so follow my rule, which is…
- Talk to someone you can trust or call a helpline
- Ask for help or find help for someone you love
- Do whatever it takes to get yourself well.
There are lots of non-medical approaches you can take including acupuncture, taking a good quality omega-3 supplement such as Eskimo as a mood booster, and psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
Self-care is important, too: it’s actually selfless and not selfish. A bath, some adult colouring (my current favourite), a massage or even a short walk can all help.
The question of medication, however, is always a conversation you need to have with your doctor. Clinical depression needs medicating, but a lot of the time therapy, positive lifestyle changes and stress reduction techniques will help enormously. And if you are on medication already, it’s important to ask about its safety of during your pregnancy. Throughout our lives it’s important that we figure out our own wellness formula, do our research and try new things because we are all so different. If you are looking for good quality information relating to women’s mental health and wellness, visit Kelly Brogan MD My friends in New York recommended this reproductive psychiatric specialist’s website when I was really struggling for the way she combined both medical and holistic approaches.