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Mental Health

Post Partum Depression Can Be a Child Protection Issue

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Post partum depression (PPD) occurs in about 20 – 25% of women after giving birth. Some level of the “baby blues” might well occur in larger numbers. The risks of PPD are that women can then go on to experience longer term depression or, in a small number of cases, go on to post partum psychosis. The latter can often be quite dangerous as it can include risks of suicide and homicide. It tends to be a psychiatric emergency.

pregnantPPD has the potential to interfere with the attachment process between mother and child. It can reduce the mother’s desire to interact with the baby and to provide stimulation (physical and emotional).

The good news is that it is highly treatable. A review by The Cochrane Library has shown that some very simple interventions can make a significant difference.

The piece of their extensive review showed that one intervention that is simple to manage and effective is peer support. Simply having someone touch base and ask, “How are you doing?” makes a difference. In essence, it is someone who just cares, is there and allows for the expression of a mother’s true feelings. This can be a major preventative tool that reduces PPD. The Cochrane review found this to be the case.

The research also found that home visits by such people as community nurses are beneficial. Interpersonal psychotherapy was also valuable.

When we reduce PPD, we improve the situation for families which in turn will reduce the need for child protection intervention. What is most appealing about the results of this research is that we do not need to build new and elaborate programs. Peer or lay support by phone works. Keeping up with nursing post delivery visits work. And, when needed, access to basic mental health support.

We should also be mindful that recent research suggests that post partum depression may have an onset up to two years after birth. There is also data indicating that fathers can also suffer from depression after the birth of a baby. Untreated there is a real risk of abuse or neglect.

Dr. Peter Choate is a Registered Social Worker and Member of the Clinical Registry and Approved Clinical Supervisor for the Alberta College of Registered Social Workers. He is an Assistant Professor at Mount Royal University in the Faculty of Social Work and Disability Studies and a Professional Development Instructor at the University of Calgary. His particular emphasis is on parenting capacity as well child and adolescent mental health including maltreatment, neglect and abuse (physical, sexual, emotional) and these issues within family systems.

          
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