One in 5 of adults in the UK will suffer clinical depression in their lifetime and as many as half of mental health disorders are initiated before a child is 14. There is abundant evidence that an overreactive stress response underlies chronic depression, as well as the involvement of other brain systems such as the immune system and endocrine system that are being orchestrated and fine tuned in infancy.
In the UK, a high-quality review of perinatal depression, estimated the prevalence of major depression as 12.7% in pregnancy. From birth to 2 months postnatally, depression was 5.7%, at 6 months, 6.5% and by the end of 12 months 21.9% – so as many as 1 in 5 mums at the end of the first year. (NICE, 2014)
Severe depression is associated with an increased risk of lower birthweight and premature babies, (Grote et al., 2010).
And if a mum suffers depression her baby may too. There is emerging evidence that untreated mental health problems in pregnancy may be associated with poorer long-term outcomes for children. For example, depression in pregnancy has been associated with depression in adolescents (Pawlby et al., 2009) and young adults (Pearson et al., 2013). Babies of depressed mothers show a difference in the structure of their brains, even though they may look happy. Such babies are at higher risk of experiencing depression themselves – 40% will experience depression before they are 16 years old, especially those who did not develop a secure attachment with their mother (Murray et al, 2011).
It is really important to get help if you are starting to feel depressed. There are a number of specific risks why help is not sought by expectant and new mothers, such as the possible stigma associated with mental health problems during a period that is broadly associated with happiness, coupled with the worry that social services will become involved, which they might fear could lead to loss of custody (Dolman et al., 2013).
Looking at why you feel depressed and talking them through, either with a midwife, friend, family member, colleague or health professional can help you to cope. See the resources on this website, including considering talking confidentially to one of our counsellors.