What Is Depression, Really?
No one yet completely understands depression's origins, although researchers now believe that the condition is a dysfunction of the brain's neurotransmitter system that affects emotions, sleep, and appetite. The textbook definition of depression is a constant state of malaise, lethargy, weight gain (or loss), and excessive sleeping (or insomnia). But it may take on different guises, especially in mothers. Often it feels like the worst kind of hopelessness, combined with an inability to cope with daily activities and a lack of interest in much of anything.
Though fathers experience depression more often than was previously believed (a recent survey showed that 26 percent of dads show signs three to six months after their baby's arrival) women have always suffered at a higher rate than men. Experts think this could be due to the difficult role women have taking care of children while facing multiple other demands. The condition is known to run in families, but environmental causes may play a much larger role. Depression can be in part a reaction to stress, especially stress that is chronic, and the marathon of motherhood is chronically stressful.
In fact, a survey conducted by Harvard Medical School and the University of Michigan found that 10 percent of women with children under the age of 18 had major depressive disorder in the last year. Stay-at-home moms with more than one child younger than 3 experience depression more than women with older kids; so do working moms who have trouble arranging or paying for child care, according to the American Psychological Association's National Task Force on Women and Depression.