By Andrea Paterson
Many women suffering from Postpartum Depression and Anxiety want to know how long they can expect their symptoms to last. We all wish that there was a magic cut-off time when we could expect our mood to return to “normal” and knowing that the condition is temporary can be healing in and of itself. The length of a PPD/A episode is, however, complicated and there is no single unifying experience. But we can talk about the range of normal experiences in order to provide some context.
PPD/A is generally defined as depression or anxiety arising within the first 4-6 weeks after having a baby. But recent research is suggesting that this timeframe is unrealistic. PPD/A can begin before a baby is born and arise at any time within the first year after having a baby and possibly many years after that. Some new research suggests that maternal depression may be most common around the time your child turns four. Click here to read more about this. The main point is that more and more researchers are realizing that PPD/A is not confined to the time directly after having a baby and there is a wide range of onset periods with a corresponding wide range of resolution periods.
How long it takes to feel better can depend on a huge number of variables including the severity of your PPD/A, how long you waited to reach out for help, whether or not you have a history of anxiety and depression, what your home environment is like, how much support you are receiving, and how dedicated you can be to treatment and self-care practices. The website Postpartumprogress.com has an excellent article on the six major variables that can affect your recovery and I definitely recommend giving it a read. It can be viewed here.
There is a pervasive notion that PPD/A should be over by the time your baby turns one. Know that while research on PPD/A beyond the one year mark is still minimal, research is showing that it’s fairly common for symptoms to persist even when you have older children. This isn’t to say that you will never feel normal again, but it’s important to note that depression and anxiety wax and wane and you may experience relapse of symptoms or persistent low-level symptoms over time. Scientific American has released an article noting that Postpartum Depression might be better categorized as Maternal Depression in order to avoid the assumption that only mothers with very young babies suffer from mood disorders. You can read the article here.
The key thing is that no matter how short-lived or pervasive your PPD/A symptoms are, you can most definitely get better. You will not feel depressed or anxious forever if you receive proper treatment and care. Things that may minimize the amount of time you suffer from PPD/A include:
- Recognizing the symptoms and getting help early
- Self-care practices
- Support Groups
- Consultation with your doctor about medication options
- Developing a personal support system that may include a partner, friends, or parents
- Private counselling services
PPD/A can feel like a never-ending journey. It’s completely normal to be afraid that you will never feel well again. Let me assure you that you will! But it’s a process that involves delving deeply into your own sense of self, and creating the necessary support systems can take a significant amount of time. Be gentle with yourself.
It may also help to see the PPD/A period as a unique opportunity for self-examination and exploration. In his book Dark Nights of the Soul, Thomas Moore attempts to re-frame depression as a necessary period of inward journeying that allows a person to make exciting new discoveries about who they are and who they are destined to be. PPD/A is a period of intense change and transformation but it’s possible, amidst the chaos and pain, to gain very positive benefits from the experience. Many women say that PPD/A made them stronger in the end and put them more deeply in touch with their own needs, desires, and convictions. It’s sometimes hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel when you’re mired in the very centre of PPD/A but know that it’s there waiting for you and the world on the other side might be more glorious and beautiful than you ever imagined.
The Pacific Post Partum Support Society offers telephone support and group support for women suffering from PPD/A. Both support systems are proven to improve outlook for women suffering from PPD/A. Partners of women with PPD/A are also encouraged to use the PPPSS telephone support service. The earlier you reach out the better off you will be! You can contact a telephone support facilitator by calling 604.255.7999 in the Lower Mainland or toll free 855.255.7999. Support facilitators can also provide more information about support groups in the Vancouver area.
Andrea Paterson is homemaker and mother to a very active three year old boy. In the spare seconds when she is not chasing her preschooler she works as writer and photographer. She also manages to read voraciously in two page increments throughout the day. Andrea is a grateful prior client of the Pacific Post Partum Support Society and cannot recommend the services of this organization highly enough. That this sort of support is freely available is an extraordinary gift.