If you are experiencing depression either before the birth of your baby or once the baby has arrived, there are a range of safe and effective treatments for depression available to help you to recover.
The type of treatment that is right for you is likely to depend on a number of factors including your personal history, the severity of your depression, the existence of other health or mental health conditions (such as anxiety which commonly co-occurs) and your preferences.
If your depression is very mild, often practical and emotional support can give you some time, space and energy to replenish yourself. Sometimes keeping involved with sports and hobbies that you typically enjoy can help you to get over this hurdle – even though at the time you may not feel much like it.
In other instances where the depression is more developed or debilitating, this is not enough to enable you to recover. For this reason it is important to seek treatment sooner rather than later. Whilst men generally have a tendency to delay seeking help, the importance of early treatment is particularly important to reduce it’s impacts on you, your partner and children in this critical time of life when your input as a dad is vital to everyone.
Psychological treatments, sometime referred to as ‘talking therapies’, can be very effective for the treatment of mild to moderate depression. These treatments use different strategies to help you identify and manage negative thoughts, feelings and behaviours that likely underly and fuel depression. By identifying and addressing these head on, this can give you the tools to bring your symptoms under control.
Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT)
This type of treatment helps you to identify negative thoughts and/or ways of thinking that commonly occur when someone is experiencing depression. If you are depressed, it is likely that you may view everyday events and opportunities in a negative way – which is not surprising when you are feeling the way that you do.
Over time this negative thinking becomes automatic – maintaining your negative thoughts and views about yourself, others and/or life in general. It can also affect they way you behave. For example, you may have negative thoughts about being a parent, feeling that you are ‘trapped’ and the life you had is over. This can lead you to feel disappointed, angry and frustrated and you may be inclined to be more irritable, short tempered, avoid others and/or drink alcohol more than usual. This negative cycle of thinking, feeling and behaviour is likely to make you feel worse over time, and increased alcohol is only going to make things worse.
The role of CBT is to teach you how to identify, rationalise and manage your negative thinking and challenge these thoughts and beliefs you may hold. This then gives you tools to become more objective and positive in your thinking. In turn, this will have a positive impact on the way you feel and what you do. Cognitive behaviour therapy also involves setting some goals and activities to give you the chance to experience positive experiences which can also help lift your mood.
Interpersonal therapy (IPT)
As depression can be associated with previous losses and/or may be affecting your relationships with others, interpersonal therapy can provide you with helpful strategies to help you resolve these issues which, if present, are likely to be affecting your depression.
These two types of therapy can be provided either in groups or individually.
If however your symptoms are moderate to severe, then you may require medication to help provide you with relief from some of the symptoms of depression. Antidepressants are an effective treatment for depression. Research and guidelines recommend that there are certain types of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs).
If you are prescribed antidepressant medication, it is important that you take your medication regularly, and as prescribed – so that is has the chance to work effectively. It is likely that it will take up to three weeks for the antidepressants to have their full effect. Whilst during this time you may experience some mild side-effects, these medications can certainly provide you with relief from the symptoms of postnatal depression. On some occasions you may need to try more than one type of antidepressant, as people respond in different ways and it is important to find the treatment that is best for you, and causes the least amount of side-effects.
The potential side effects of the medication that I read on the packet scared me – so I was hesitant, but ultimately decided to go ahead. I’m so glad I did. The effects weren’t immediate but after a few weeks I started to feel like my old self again.
The length of time that you may need to take medication also varies from person to person and is likely to be affected by your personal history, the severity of your postnatal depression, other stressors and available supports.
Once you feel that you are at a point of recovery, it is important that you don’t stop taking your medication suddenly, but rather discuss this with your doctor and work out a plan.
Usually antidepressant treatment should continue for between six months to two years after a full recovery has been achieved. It can also be valuable to be aware of your initial symptoms of depression to help you identify any signs possible of relapse when coming off medication – or further down the track. This can enable you to get onto this early and potentially prevent the condition becoming severe again.
Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)
Electroconvulsive therapy or ECT, is a specialist treatment that involves activating electro-currents to the brain, and can relieve a range of severe symptoms of depression. ECT is generally prescribed if your depression is severe and medications are not having a positive effect on your severe symptoms. The number of ECT treatments will vary depending on the severity of your depression and how rapidly you respond to the treatment.
For many parents, whilst ECT may be considered a last resort, it can certainly be a life-saver as it can effectively provide relief from the symptoms of depression.