To all women in business: Balancing work and family demands can be difficult …

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Let’s speak about…post-partum mental health.

Dr Georgiana Farrugia Bonnici, BSc (Hons) Rad. M.D. MSc Family Medicine

Pregnancy and child-birth are both universally celebrated milestones in many cultures. Yet, for certain individuals, these experiences may not be as joyful and may end up creating an ambience of sadness or agony, that may even go unnoticed. Returning back to work following maternity leave can also be difficult, so it is important to check up on and take care of our collegues who are going through this demanding period in their lives.

Post-partum psychiatric illnesses are generally classified into the post-partum blues, the post-partum depression and the post-partum psychosis. It may be easier to conceptualize each of these enlisted disorders as occurring along a continuum, with the post-partum blues being the mildest and the post-partum psychosis being the most severe form.

Many new mothers may experience post-partum blues after childbirth, which commonly include feelings of being overwhelmed, sadness, anxiety, irritability and mood swings, reduced concentration, as well as changes in the appetite or sleeping patterns. Post-partum blues typically begin within the first two to three days after delivery, and may last for up to two weeks, whilst the family is still getting accustomed to their parental roles and to their new way of living.

Post-partum depression is not a sign of weakness but a complication that is associated with the process of giving birth. Post-partum depression may easily be mistaken for post-partum blues at its initial stages. However, when the symptoms start intensifying to a point of interfering with one’s ability to take care for themselves, their newborn or handling other daily chores, it would then be the time to speak to a health-care professional. This condition may affect both mothers and fathers.

The signs and symptoms of post-partum depression usually develop within the first few weeks after giving birth, and may even last up to a year. The key eye-openers may include: Severe mood swings, intense irritability or restlessness, prolonged depressive episodes, difficulties in bonding with the newborn, social withdrawal, changes in appetite, insomnia or excessive sleeping, fatigue, feelings of hopelessness and fearing that one is not a good parent, a diminished ability to think clearly, concentrate or make decisions, panic attacks, as well as recurrent thoughts of harming oneself or the newborn.

Post-partum psychosis is a form of personality disintegration and a loss of contact with reality. Its clinical picture may take the form of manic or depressive episodes, as well as psychosis. The onset of the condition is rapid, with signs appearing as early as two to three days after delivery.  The signs and symptoms of post-partum psychosis may include: confusion and disorientation, obsessive thoughts on the newborn, hallucinations and delusions, sleep disturbance, excessive energy and agitation, paranoia or suicidal ideation.

While previous studies have suggested that a number of demographic and clinical variables such as primiparity and child-delivery complications may be associated with post-partum psychosis, the most significant risk factors of post-partum psychosis are: a family history of post-partum depression or psychosis, a history of bipolar disorder or a previous episode of post-partum depression or psychosis. Post-partum psychosis may lead to life-threatening behaviours and requires immediate medical attention and psychiatric treatment.

It is vital for anyone in business to speak up if they are not feeling well, and seek early professional post-natal health-care services to address their needs during critical times. Making use of available family-friendly work measures is also a possibility at this time. It is okay not to be okay…Help will always be given to those who ask for it.

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