What causes depression?
According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, there may be a number of reasons why a woman gets depressed. Hormone changes or a stressful life event, such as a death in the family, can cause chemical changes in the brain that lead to depression. Depression is also known as an illness that runs in some families. At other times, however, it’s not clear what causes depression.
During pregnancy, these factors may increase a woman’s chance of depression:
- History of depression or substance abuse
- Family history of mental illness
- Little support from family and friends
- Anxiety about the fetus
- Problems with previous pregnancy or birth
- Marital or financial problems
- Young age (of mother)
Depression after pregnancy is called postpartum depression or peripartum depression. After pregnancy, hormonal changes in a woman’s body may trigger symptoms of depression. During pregnancy, the amount of two female hormones, estrogen and progesterone, in a woman’s body increases greatly.
In the first 24 hours after childbirth, the amount of these hormones rapidly drops back down to their normal non-pregnant levels. Researchers think the fast change in hormone levels may lead to depression, just as smaller changes in hormones can affect a woman’s moods before she gets her menstrual period. Occasionally, levels of thyroid hormones may also drop after giving birth. The thyroid is a small gland in the neck that helps to regulate metabolism (how the body uses and stores energy from food).
Low thyroid levels can cause symptoms of depression including depressed mood, decreased interest in things, irritability, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, sleep problems, and weight gain. A simple blood test can tell if this condition is causing a woman’s depression. If so, thyroid medicine can be prescribed by a doctor.
According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, other factors that may contribute to postpartum depression include:
- Feeling tired after delivery, broken sleep patterns, and not enough rest often keeps a new mother from regaining her full strength for weeks.
- Feeling overwhelmed with a new, or another, baby to take care of and doubting your ability to be a good mother
- Feeling stress from changes in work and home routines. Sometimes, women think they have to be “super mom” or perfect, which is not realistic and can add stress
- Having feelings of loss — loss of identity of who you are, or were, before having the baby, loss of control, loss of your pre-pregnancy figure, and feeling less attractive
- Having less free time and less control over time. Having to stay home indoors for longer periods of time and having less time to spend with your partner and loved ones.