Call us today
Mood disorders are the most common form of mental health struggle in the United States. These conditions are typically triggered by an imbalance in brain chemistry, which may be caused by a combination of genetics, life stress, trauma, drug abuse, and family history. Types of mood disorders include:
Depression and bipolar disorder are often associated with anxiety disorders, but they are not exactly the same. Perinatal mood disorders include a combination of depression and anxiety symptoms associated with changes to brain chemistry that take place after the birth of a new baby. While many new mothers and fathers experience higher stress and lower mood in the first weeks after their child is born, the “baby blues” can, in some cases, continue for months or years. The sadness, numbness, or exhaustion may get worse, not better, as one’s routine includes the baby. New symptoms, including persistent thoughts of suicide, self-harm, or harming the child, may begin. Untreated, perinatal mood disorders can lead to trauma, worsened symptoms, and even addiction to drugs and alcohol.
Essentially, perinatal mood disorders are specific conditions that occur during pregnancy or up to one year after the birth of the child. The category of perinatal disorders includes:
There are many potential conditions that can persist or get worse during and after pregnancy. One in five women will develop a perinatal mood disorder, so it is important to understand what these conditions look like and how to get help.
Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders can be triggered by the rapid hormone changes that occur after childbirth, but they are more likely to occur in those who have a history of mood disorders, a genetic or family history of these disorders, or a history of substance abuse or addiction. Further stresses from parenthood, including sleep deprivation, worry about the infant, feeling overwhelmed, or failing to meet personal expectations can contribute to worsening perinatal mood disorder symptoms. In addition to environmental stresses from parenting and biological factors, a lack of social support and cultural expectations around motherhood and fatherhood can also contribute to symptoms getting worse if they are not addressed.
About one-third of perinatal mood disorders begin during pregnancy, but these typically manifest as anxiety rather than depression. Early postpartum mood changes begin with a serotonin deficiency alongside decreased tryptophan. Hormones, including cortisol, estradiol, and progesterone, all contribute to neurotransmitter production, especially serotonin, which is closely associated with mood changes. Both estrogen and progesterone in women decrease rapidly after childbirth. Studies have shown that some men experience a drop in testosterone and androgen, too, during their female partner’s pregnancy and childbirth, which may contribute to men’s risk of perinatal mood disorders.
While men are statistically less affected than women by perinatal mood disorders, they are still at risk of developing any of these conditions. Men’s hormones fluctuate during their female partner’s pregnancy and after childbirth. If they are involved in the child’s life, they will experience drastic lifestyle changes, sleep deprivation, and social pressure just like women. Men, like women, with family histories, genetic risks, and previous diagnoses of mood disorders are more likely to develop a perinatal mood disorder.
This condition is stigmatized enough in new mothers, but research on men’s experience with these mental health challenges is only beginning. It is important to know that men can display any of the above symptoms for the first year or two of their child’s life, and men need care for these conditions just like women do. About one in 10 new fathers will develop a perinatal mood disorder.
It is important to treat any mood disorder, including perinatal mood disorders. For new parents, it is important to work with a therapist and/or psychiatrist and follow a few basic steps:
The signs and symptoms are not always clear, so if there is any concern about a new parent’s behavior or emotional state, they should seek help from a physician or therapist. There is a risk for pregnant women and new parents who develop a perinatal mood disorder to also develop an addiction or substance abuse problem as a method of self-medication. One study of individuals with any mood disorder found that 32 percent of the study subjects also struggled with addiction. Among those with depression, about 16.5 percent had an alcohol use disorder and 18 percent had a drug abuse disorder. About 56 percent of people with bipolar disorder struggled with addiction.
Abusing drugs and alcohol while pregnant can harm fetal development, leading to chronic behavioral or physical disorders in the child. Men and women who develop a postpartum mood disorder and abuse drugs or alcohol also put themselves and their children at risk of physical, emotional, financial, and social harm.
It is important to get help to treat any perinatal mood disorder when symptoms begin. Therapists, physicians, and addiction specialists are all available to help.