Myth #1: If you go to the GP, all they’ll do is put you on Anti-depressants.
In New Zealand, it is the expectation that your family doctor is the person you will go to for help for any health issue, including mental health. At that appointment, your doctor will talk about your symptoms to determine whether you may be experiencing postnatal depression. The conversation will also let your doctor know how severe those symptoms are. Without that conversation, your doctor cannot get you the help that you need. That help might be in the form of counselling referrals, information on services available, referrals to other health providers if needed, and it might include medication. You don’t have to accept any of the referrals, recommendations or medication offered to you. It is your choice. What is important is that you go for help, get some information, and make an informed choice about your options. Mothers Helpers can help you by providing you with the information you need and where you can go for help.
It is true that every doctor is different in the way that they treat mental health issues. Research shows that there are a number of ways to treat mild postnatal depression including exercise, diet, psychological help such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), support and medication, but mental health is complicated. It is our opinion that you should seek information from a reliable source who understands all the medical and biological implications of mental illness and the symptoms you’re experiencing, and hear their advice before you decide on what the best method of treatment is for you.
Myth #2: The side-effects of anti-depressants are really dreadful.
Just as everyone’s depressive symptoms are slightly different, so too are their experience of medication. One medication might work for one person, and it mightn’t work for another person. Some people experience relief from symptoms from the first medication they try at a low dose, others only find relief if the dose is higher, others still spend a long time finding the medication that helps their depression – in those cases, they’re best to have their GP refer them to a Psychiatrist, who they’d be eligible to see free of charge.
In terms of side-effects again it is an individual thing. One person might experience no side-effects for a particular medication, another person will experience lots of side-effects and if those side-effects are not going to work in the long-term (gain vs. loss), it’s worth looking at other medication options. It is very common to feel very drowsy for the first two days of taking medication. It is also common to experience some mild side-effects for a few weeks while your body adjusts to the medication, but usually they subside after that time. It also takes a few weeks for the medication to start working and you feel the reduction in depressive symptoms. You are less likely to experience side-effects on the “newer” medications (ie. SSRI’s) than you are on the “older” medications (Tricyclics) – but that is not to say that you will. Again, everyone is different in terms of what works well for them.
Some people describe the side-effect of feeling “numb” or that they do not feel extreme emotions. That is not common to everyone, although it is common to experience stabilizing of mood. People still describe having the ability to laugh or cry, feel joy or sadness. However, some report their emotions as not being quite so pronounced.
The side-effects of a medication have to be weighed up against the effects of depression to determine whether or not it’s the best option. For some people they experience no side effects at all.
Myth #3: Anti-depressants are addictive
With some anti-depressant medication, some people experience withdrawal effects as they are reducing their medication (to come off it). Every medication is different in that respect – some seem to have more effects than others. It’s worth finding out what those effects are before you start the medication. Venlafaxine for instance, doctors often consider to be a good medication for anxiety, however on high doses people have said they’ve found the withdrawal symptoms very difficult whereas others have no problem at all. For some of the other types of medication, withdrawing/reduction process is a non-event. It varies from medication to medication, and from person to person.
Myth #4: You can get better from Postnatal Depression on medication alone.
Research shows us that the best approach to Postnatal Depression is holistic. If a person takes medication and makes no other changes in their life, it’s likely that they will relapse after coming off medication. If the same stressors are there, if the same thought patterns (which Cognitive Behavioural Therapy counselling can help with), if mum is still not getting sufficient support or time out, she is again at-risk of falling into depression. Medication often gives people sufficient “wellness” (including motivation and energy) to deal with the stressors and risk factors that have contributed to becoming unwell.
Myth #5: Choosing natural methods (rather than anti-depressants) to get better from Postnatal Depression is best.
It’s the everyone is different thing again. For some people with mild depression, diet and exercise with CBT Counselling is all that is needed to recover and become well. For others they find they respond well to the natural over-the-counter anti-depressant St Johns Wort. However, St Johns Wort cannot be taken while pregnant or breastfeeding, and some mothers do not experience any benefit from taking it. Also, diet and exercise takes an enormous amount of motivation, and counselling takes courage. It also takes time to see the results if you are going to get them without medication (which will depend on the severity of your depression and whether you’ve had depression before and a whole bunch of other factors). The longer depression continues without being adequately treated – whether that’s by natural means, lifestyle choice, medication or all three, the more likely you’ll experience the consequences of depression. Consider the effects depression is having on you, on your partner and on your child. How strained is your relationship with your partner? How is the bond between you and baby? How safe do you feel in terms of thoughts about harming yourself or your child? Let those (and other factors) guide you in your decision as to whether the treatment option you’ve chosen, is working. Mothers Helpers will get alongside you to assist you with goal-setting and reviewing goals like these.
Mothers Helpers wants you to get better as quickly and as fully as possible with as few effects of depression to your life and the life of your family as possible. We are concerned for your safety, for your wellbeing and that of your family. We will not advise you as to the best course of treatment for you, but we will give you information so that you can make an informed decision, and then support you on your journey no matter what you choose.
Disclaimer: Evidenced-based “Best Practice” Guidelines show that people with severe depression do not become well without the assistance of medication.
Source of Information: “New Zealand Health Technology Assessment”, by Meagan Stephenson, Department of Public Health and General Practice Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Christchurch.”