Understanding Depression In Motherhood
Depression is not picky. Like other mental health disorders, depression can impact anyone, regardless of age, race, socio-economic status, or sexuality. It can seep into your day and make it more difficult to get out of bed and it can sit beside you while you engage in one of your favorite hobbies with your friends or family, invisible to them and unignorable to you.
What is Depression?
The Mayo Clinic describes depression as “a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest,” affecting more than 264 million people worldwide. While experiences of depression can vary from person to person, some common symptoms include a decrease in energy, loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities, and feelings of hopelessness and guilt. It can affect your ability to engage in social activities, work, or take care of yourself.
Depression in Mothers
The symptoms of depression may look different depending on your gender, as well as life experiences and cultural stressors. We also know that women are nearly twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression as men. Additionally, there are types of depression unique to women, like Premenstrual Syndrome, commonly referred to as PMS, as well as Perinatal Depression, formerly titled postpartum.
While pregnancy and new motherhood are often depicted as the most joyous time in a woman’s life, the American Psychiatric Association found “an estimated one in seven women experiences peripartum depression.” The symptoms of which can include heightened levels of anxiety, changes in sleep/energy, lower self-esteem, thoughts of self-injury, and thoughts of injuring the child.
Before we go any further, we want to remind you that if you are experiencing peripartum, you are not a bad person and you are not a bad mother. This is an extremely common development of motherhood, which means you are not alone. And just like any other mental health experience, it does not define you. There is more to your story, more to who you are.
Coping With Motherhood and Depression
A few years ago, our friend Candace shared part of her story and her experience with depression as a mom. She drew a picture of what caring for children while living with depression can look like.
“This morning was like every other. My eyes struggled to open as I dragged myself from the threaded waves of bed sheets. A grunt, or three, I make my way into the land of the living—a brightly lit house brimming with the kind of optimism only my 10 and 5-year-old can bring through an early morning sunrise—a place that feels more unfamiliar, yet more comfortable, with every passing day. My feet drag, arms just weighted appendages, while the ache in my chest awakens, emboldened by the start of another day; a new day with new beginnings and hopes, or a new day with more of the same.”
You have homework to check, snacks to make, bedtime stories to read—while still holding all the responsibilities you had prior to becoming a mother. With the added guilt or fear that might be saying: You should be enjoying every second of this. They grow up so fast. What kind of mother feels anything other than pride or joy?
Whatever age your kids are, the message mothers often receive is to focus on taking care of the children first. Your mental health and well-being are secondary. But the reality is that it’s OK to prioritize taking care of yourself.
Remember: You don’t have to face any of those thoughts and feelings alone. You don’t have to cope on your own. It’s OK to talk about it, to tell someone else what’s going on, to ask for help.
Mental Health Help For Mothers
Depression can be treated and there are resources available. A diagnosis of depression does not mean a hopeless scenario. There are solutions to help both you and your child(ren) to cope.
Start by talking to someone—whether that’s your partner or another trusted friend. Remember that experiencing depression does not mean you are weak; it means you are human. And you deserve whatever help you need.
You can also choose to connect with a helpline to talk with someone anonymously if that’s more comfortable. Postpartum Support International has a helpline available specifically for those experiencing perinatal (or postpartum) depression. You can call or text 800-944-4773 (971-203-7773 to text in Spanish) to get connected. Crisis Text Line Counselors can be reached 24/7 by texting TWLOHA to 741741; their services are free and confidential.
For longer-term care, we recommend connecting to a local counselor. You can use our FIND HELP Tool to search by zip code for affordable, local options.
As you move forward in your healing journey, Parent.com provides a list of suggestions for how you can start the conversation around depression with your kids. Their advice includes sitting down with your family to walk them through any potentially upsetting symptoms your children may witness, allowing them to ask you any of the questions they may have, and reminding them that this conversation can happen as many times as they may want or need.
Depression has a way of making us feel incredibly isolated. We’re here to remind you of the truth that you are not alone. Your story matters. We can find help and hope amongst the heaviness.
- National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-TALK (8255)
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: 800-662-HELP (4357)
- National Alliance on Mental Illness: 800-950-6264 or text NAMI to 741741
- Talkspace offers recommendations for both you and your family