National Maternal Depression Awareness Month

26 May by HPA/LiveWell Clinical Psychology

The month of May is dedicated to National Maternal Depression Awareness. This significant mental health issue has the potential to affect any woman, regardless of race, religion, age, or background.  HPA/LiveWell, in Albany, New York, is dedicated to taking part in the push towards raising awareness about maternal depression through education.  A vital part of this is providing information on the various treatment options available for those who struggle with maternal depression.

What is Maternal Depression?

Maternal depression includes a wide range of symptoms that can affect women through their pregnancy and up to one year post-partum.  Maternal depression looks similar to general depression in many ways. Yet the one major difference is maternal depression not only affects the woman’s mental health and well-being, but also that of the rest of the nuclear family (spouse, children, and/or the child she is pregnant with).

Causes of Maternal Depression

There are several reasons why maternal depression may occur for women at some point throughout pregnancy and/or motherhood.  Often, maternal depression is attributed to hormonal changes and/or stress.  Yet, for some, it could be genetic.  There are also indicators that show experiencing trauma, loss, and other major life stressors can contribute to the development of maternal depression.

Maternal Depression Symptoms

Women who suffer from maternal depression frequently experience considerable symptoms.  Sadly, these symptoms are often overlooked (perhaps due to lack of education around this mental illness) and therefore, left untreated.  Symptoms of maternal depression look much like those of generalized depression, such as:

  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Withdrawal from social situations (isolation)
  • Fatigue and lethargy
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Changes in appetite and sleep
  • Hopelessness
  • Lack of motivation

Obviously, when a woman suffers from maternal depression, she is the one directly affected.  Yet, the consequences of those symptoms often have a serious secondary effect on loved ones, especially children.

Maternal Depression and Child Development

Anyone who directly suffers from depression knows it creates a significant impact on daily functioning and overall well-being.  Yet, with maternal depression, the child of the woman struggling with maternal depression can also be greatly affected.

Maternal depression is a significant risk factor for infant cognitive development. In some cases, maternal depression manifests in a mother’s hostility towards her infant; in others, mothers can become disengaged and withdrawn.  Either way, it is clear maternal depression influences a mother’s ability to interact and bond with her child.

Parents typically shift focus to a child’s behavioral development once they reach the toddler years.  Unfortunately, depressed mothers tend to demonstrate less responsiveness to their child’s needs during this crucial time.  Women who suffer from maternal depression are often also poor models for mood regulation and problem-solving.  Studies have shown children of depressed mothers are more non-compliant and decreased ability to complete age-appropriate tasks independently.

Maternal Depression Statistics

Looking at the statistics, the prevalence of maternal depression is staggering – 1 in 7 women develop maternal depression during or after pregnancy.  And while any woman can experience maternal depression, there are some factors that might make some more at risk than others.

  • Mothers younger than 30 years old
  • Latina adolescent mothers
  • Low-income women
  • Immigrants
  • White, non-Hispanic women

It is clear that a woman’s physical, social, and economic environment can impact her general well-being.  And with maternal depression, individual circumstances may either increase the likelihood of developing maternal depression, or affect her ability to seek treatment.