Tuesday, December 27th, 2011
In my last post, I provided a brief overview of the many reasons why moms are at risk for depression. It’s thus critical for every mom to be aware of the signs of depression – especially those that may not be as obvious as others.
A trusted source for information on depression is the National Institute of Mental Health. I recommend having a look at their discussion of women and depression, which includes a list of the basic symptoms, which I quote here:
- Persistent sad, anxious or “empty” feelings
- Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
- Irritability, restlessness, anxiety
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and/or helplessness
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
- Fatigue and decreased energy
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions
- Insomnia, waking up during the night, or excessive sleeping
- Overeating, or appetite loss
- Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
- Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment
- The vast majority of women show only some of these symptoms – you don’t need to have all of them to be depressed
- While sadness may be what first comes to mind when you think about depression, note that most of these symptoms are not about sadness per se – and even in terms of sadness, this doesn’t always get expressed as crying (it can be more “quiet” than that, especially in terms of feeling empty inside). It’s important to think about other feelings that you may be experiencing – like guilt and hopelessness – that go beyond sadness
- There are a number of physical symptoms – irritability, anxiety, restlessness, fatigue, even aches and pains. While these can be caused by a number of things, it’s important to remember that they can be signs of depression, especially if you have other symptoms as well
- Some of the symptoms can be expressed very differently – sleep problems can involve insomnia OR excessive sleeping, you can experience overeating OR appetite loss. The reason for this is not clear, but be aware that any problem with sleep or eating can be tied to depression. A loss of energy and lack of interest in things that are important to you are also important signals to be aware of – though for some women increasing anxiety may dominate.
- There are a number of cognitive symptoms. It can be difficult to focus, concentrate, and make decisions. Especially important are changes in these symptoms in conjunction with some of the other symptoms (e.g., being sad and finding you are becoming more indecisive than usual)
In terms of diagnosing depression, a clinician will be looking for a constellation of these symptoms (which as described above can be very different from one woman to the next), along with the duration (for a major depressive episode, the typical benchmark is two weeks of having a number of symptoms most of the time). That said, depressive symptoms can wax and wane, and it’s important to start to recognize some of the signs – especially if it seems like they are increasing – even if you don’t have a full “episode.” So it’s very important to learn these signs, monitor yourself over time, and be aware if some of these symptoms are coming together at the same time. At that point it would be worth discussing with your primary care physician, who ideally would refer you to a mental health specialist for evaluation if necessary. This last step is very important, as depression is treatable using a number of approaches (both talk therapy as well as drug therapy). Most of all, I am a firm believer in trusting your gut instincts. If you don’t feel like yourself, get yourself checked out. Depression is a serious disorder and seeking treatment when necessary often leads to very positive changes in a woman’s life. And in my next post, I will discuss how it can lead to positive changes in your parenting as well.