More cases of perinatal depression emerging in India

On Mother’s Day, mothers around the world wake up to special treats and lovingly-made gifts. Women are often told that being a mother is one of the greatest joys in life. But what if the arrival of a baby signals the onset of unrealistic expectations, worry and anxiety? Sadhana*, a young mother, remembers feeling anxious and depressed after her son was born. Instead of celebrating with the rest of the family, she found herself crying for no reason at all. She was plagued by shame and guilt for feeling ‘so sad after such a happy event’.

Only after speaking to a mental health professional in Bengaluru did she learn that she was suffering from perinatal depression, symptoms of which manifest during pregnancy (ante-natal) and in the post-pregnancy (postpartum) period.

Increased awareness

In Bengaluru, the perinatal clinic at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) has recorded a more than 100 per cent rise in the number of cases over a one-year period. There were 238 new registrations in 2015-16, more than twice the previous year’s figures (104). Since the start of this year, the clinic, which works with mothers and infants, has been seeing about eight to ten new cases a week, as opposed to an average of five a week the previous year. Doctors, however, are quick to add that the rise is the result of not only higher incidence but also increased awareness among patients and obstetricians. “We have been training obstetricians to detect and refer cases to us, and this has led to more cases of mothers with perinatal depression coming to us,” said Prabha Chandra, professor and head, department of psychiatry at NIMHANS, who specialises in perinatal care.

Symptoms of perinatal depression may include insomnia, loss of appetite, intense irritability and difficulty in bonding with the baby. There is no single trigger for perinatal depression.

While women with a history of mental illness are predisposed to the disorder, it can also be triggered by factors such as the lack of support during pregnancy and childbirth, and difficulties in adjustment at home.

“Studies show that mothers, who are highly stressed out or have mental health problems during pregnancy, can have low-birth weight babies or pre-term deliveries. The children may also suffer from conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder,” said Dr. Chandra.

“At NIMHANS, we have psychologists, social workers and infant psychologists working with the nurses and psychiatrists,” said Geetha Desai, perinatal psychiatrist with the unit.

Treatment varies from counselling to cognitive therapy, but there are cases where patients are diagnosed with postpartum psychosis, a severe mental illness which needs round-the-care treatment for both mother and infant.

(*Some names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals. Originally published here.)

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