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Causes of Postnatal Depression

Strong emotions are always associated with whether innate emotional needs (human givens) are being met, or not. When they are we feel happy, positive, loving, blissful even: full of a sense of wellbeing. But when they are not met we feel anxious, depressed or angry.

It is worrying about those innate emotional needs that are not being met that can cause postnatal depression. So when a mother or father is suffering from postnatal depression we have to look at the various factors that might be triggering them to worry, in order to help them. These will usually be related to some aspect of the major lifestyle and physical changes caused by having the baby.

What causes postnatal depression?

The innate needs that parents could be missing and how they interrelate with postnatal depression include:

Security and Control

The need for personal volition – control – is of great importance and a new parent may feel that they lack control in the following areas:

The Need for Attention

A new mum needs to be able to exchange attention with her child but can feel this is a one way deal – she doesn’t get enough attention in return, or the attention she receives is not the sort she may have been expecting. This will inhibit the essential bonding that needs to happen if the child is to flourish.

Emotional Intimacy

A new mother needs at least one person to support her emotionally. A loving father or close friend usually provides this but that is not always possible.

Poor Bonding

If she is not bonding well with her baby, perhaps due to associating it with a traumatic birth or because she is not a natural ‘empathiser’, this can also upset her.

Connection to the Community

Ideally, a mother needs connection with family, friends, and other young mums in her community. They can give her the emotional support she needs to feel confident caring for her baby. If she feels incompetent, however, and is experiencing difficulties in adapting to motherhood, this will undermine natural feelings of self-worth. Single mothers who are on their own are far more likely to suffer from postnatal depression. As she enters motherhood she needs the security of a family unit around her and friends to help them out to reduce the likelihood of developing a severe low mood that could cause postnatal depression.

The Need to Feel Competent

The feelings she is having because of hormonal changes may cause frequent crying for no obvious reason. She may be unprepared for the arrival of the baby and feel out of her depth when realising the extent of the responsibility she now has, caring for her new born. Unanticipated difficulties around breast-feeding can undermine her sense of achievement and competence, as can difficulties around concentrating and making reasonable decisions, which is always a problem when one is emotional.

Sense of Meaning

It is vital to mental health that life feels meaningful. When this innate need drains out of the life of a depressed mother she and her baby become vulnerable. The tiredness and loss of motivational energy needed to fire her brain’s orientation response, which she needs to focus outwards, causes her to lose interest in the world around her and she can no longer enjoy things that used to be meaningful and gave her pleasure. Loss of meaning is the prime cause of self-harming and suicide and may, in some women, also lead to thoughts of harming or killing the baby to end the suffering.

When a mother’s innate emotional needs are met well enough, you can be confident that she and the child will thrive. The converse is also true, when her needs are not met she will begin to worry and this is what initiates the slide into depression that can happen suddenly or slowly.

Postnatal Depression in Men

If the mother of a child is suffering from postnatal depression this can have a drastic effect on the father: he begins to worry about the situation too and suffer and exhibit the same symptoms as the mother. He might worry about the difficulties between the parents in connecting with the baby – for example, finding space in their relationship for it. Or the mother’s depression could cause a rift between the couple and they both feel cut off from the baby and each other, this can hugely exacerbate the inadequacy and guilt they both feel.