Feelings of depression are often hidden away or goes unmentioned for fear of being seen as a “bad mom”. But ignoring depression can be like a person with a broken leg trying to run. It doesn’t work.
What does depression look like?
“All it takes is a beautiful smile to hide an injured soul and they will never notice how broken you really are.” – Robin Williams
This quote by Robin Williams caught my eye recently. Remembered fondly for roles in films such as Dead Poets Society, Mrs. Doubtfire and Aladdin, a person who brought so much joy to so many nonetheless struggled deeply with depression.
What about you, Mama? Is this something you’re struggling with? Some of you may be wondering what depression is or what it looks like. While depression can sometimes be visible expressions of sadness, it can also be an invisible struggle.
Although some people experience intense and overwhelming sadness, others may experience depression as a low-grade on-going hum in the background. They can function throughout the day, but depression can feel like a leaky faucet that drains their energy. A person experiencing depression may have good days, okay days, and bad days.
Depression can look like:
- Overeating/undereating to cope
- Oversleeping/not sleeping enough or at all
- Some people may struggle to do ‘the small things’ while others may not (e.g. taking a shower, getting out of bed, keeping up with chores)
- Feeling numb or experiencing great sadness and crying
- Some people may want to talk and work through their struggles, others may withdraw
- Saying ‘I’m fine,’ when asked, but struggling to hold it all together
- Faking a smile or cracking jokes
- Doing well at work, trying to be ‘everything to everyone’ but struggling to hold self together
- Feeling lonely even amongst friends
These signs of depression along with a stream of negative thoughts that affect your sense of self-worth (e.g. I’m so stupid, I’m wasting my life, I’m going to fail as usual, I feel ugly, I’m a bad person) can make completing even small tasks hard. No wonder depression can drain a person of their energy – emotionally, mentally and physically.
>> Here are 3 myths about postpartum depression, debunked.
Are you a mom struggling with depression in pregnancy or postpartum?
In my research, we are actually seeing that this anxiety or depression is developing during pregnancy. If you are experiencing perinatal depression or anxiety this does not mean there is a problem with you. Rather, it is something that you simply need to manage.
One study found that as many as in 5 pregnant women are experience depression, but many cases go undetected or untreated. This could be because many signs of depression are similar to the physical experiences common in pregnancy, such as feeling more tired than usual and changes in sleep patterns and appetite. This is why it is important to look for the emotional and mental signs, such as the depression signs listed above as well as:
- A lack of interest in the pregnancy
- Feelings of guilt
- Doubting your ability to care for baby
- Having a hard time bonding with the child
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Feeling like a “bad mother”
- Thoughts about harming yourself or your child
For many people, pregnancy and postpartum depression still carry a lot of stigma. Many women feel pressured to be excited and overjoyed to be expecting and when their child is born. It is not surprising then that feelings of depression are often hidden away or goes unmentioned for fear of being seen as a “bad mom”. But ignoring depression can be like a person with a broken leg trying to run. It doesn’t work.
>> Can you recognize the warning signs of PREnatal depression?
What can you do if you are struggling?
Our research has shown that women who experience anxiety and/or depression during pregnancy are more likely to also experience postpartum depression. Pregnancy is a very vulnerable time in a woman’s life with so many changes happening. If you have a history of mental health struggles before getting pregnant, you are also more at risk for developing perinatal anxiety or depression.
You may be wondering, what can you do if you are struggling?
It’s really important to talk about what you’re going through with your healthcare provider. Whether this is your doctor, a nurse, midwife, or doula. Sadly, we have heard stories from women about experiencing little help from their healthcare provider. If this is the case, reach out and talk to somebody else. It’s important that you get the help you need to cope – and prevent years of pain.
In the meantime, it is also important to take the time to treat yourself with kindness. For some of us, it takes time to learn that we are worth showing as much kindness to in the same way that we would show kindness to a friend.
What to do if family/friends don’t understand?
Recently, we received many questions about what to do if family or partners do not understand or are unsupportive of your experience with depression.
It’s important to know that your experiences and feelings are valid – depression is real and the symptoms still exist even if those closest to you don’t understand.
But that doesn’t mean that depression is who you are, it’s something you can manage, like other health struggles. For example, if you have asthma, you can take action to manage your asthma symptoms.
Please remember that though depression may be something you struggle with, depression is NOT who you are. You have worth as a person whether you struggle with depression or anxiety in pregnancy/postpartum or not.
We understand that it is very hard when family isn’t supportive. We’ve written a guide on what to do when family don’t understand. It is available to download for free.
You are enough
When we are struggling it can sometimes feel like we are ‘not good enough’. We may blame ourselves for why we are struggling and try to be ‘strong’ by not crying or telling ourselves that others have it worse. Please know that feelings of stress, depression and anxiety is sometimes a cry for help. Experiencing emotions is a normal human reaction and it is okay to feel sad sometimes. Just know that healing is possible, and that you deserve help and healing because you have worth.
September is suicide prevention month, but it’s important to keep being gentle with ourselves and ask for help when we need it beyond September. Although situations may feel hard now, it is a chapter, and better days are possible. Please contact your crisis helpline and your doctor if you are struggling. Recovery is possible. Visit our resources page for links to crisis helplines.
 Chan, J., Natekar, A., Einarson, A., & Koren, G. (2014). Risks of untreated depression in pregnancy. Canadian family physician Medecin de famille canadien, 60(3), 242–243.
 Wichman, C. L., & Stern, T. A. (2015). Diagnosing and Treating Depression During Pregnancy. The primary care companion for CNS disorders, 17(2), 10.4088/PCC.15f01776. https://doi.org/10.4088/PCC.15f01776