When it comes to changes in mood and behavior during or after pregnancy, one of the most common questions I come across as an educator, doula, and friend to other moms is, "How would I know if I need professional help, or if this is 'just hormonal' and something that I can manage on my own?" With regard to mental health -- whether during the perinatal time or not -- this is an excellent question. And in recognition of Mental Health Awarness Month this May, we would like to address this question as it relates to perinatal and postpartum mood disorders, like depression, anxiety, OCD, and psychosis.
How Do You Know if You Need Mental Health Help During Pregnancy or After Birth?
If you think you need help, get help.
If you think you might need help, get help.
If you don't know if you need help, get help.
The key takeaway here is not to "wait it out," "tough it out," or "cry it out." How would you respond to a bodily infection? Sure, you may wait a couple of days to see if it worsens, but most people seek medical help fairly quickly. Mental health must be treated the same way. You and your baby's health are worth it. You can take 100 online questionnaires to learn about your symptoms (Postpartum Progress has an excellent list here), but ultimately, if something feels "off," "not quite right," or troubling, trust your gut and get help.
The first step in seeking professional help is finding someone, or a group, qualified to evaluate and treat your symptoms. This could be found in your primary doctor, who may refer you out to a specialist, or a local therapist or counselor who specializes in perinatal mood disorders, or your area may offer a local support group or program that addresses these issues. If you took a childbirth class or hired a doula, contact her to let her know you're seeking help -- she will have a list of local resources you can contact straight away. If you area has a Birth Network, mental health and postpartum counseling resources often are listed on their website. If you're part of a mom's group, contact other moms and let them know you're looking for a therapist or counselor. Most moms group have other moms who have dealt with postpartum mood disorders and can put you in touch with the right people to help.
Bottom line: get help. Help is not a sign of weakness, but of strength! And if you are friends or family of someone who may need help, please do the best you can to offer resources and possibly even accompany her to an appointment, if it's appropriate. Mental health can't wait!
Image from Mental Health America.net