22 Oct 2016

Alison McCulloch: post-natal depression

From Saturday Morning, 9:10 am on 22 October 2016

Up to 9,000 New Zealand women a year may suffer from this serious condition, but it often go undetected and untreated, says investigative journalist Alison McCulloch.

She tells Kim Hill what she’s learnt about what's been called “the thief that steals motherhood”.

One of the big problems in tackling post-natal depression (PND) is that it’s not easy to identify. Even more so than other mental health conditions, says Alison, because it all mixed up with everything else that’s going on for a pregnant woman or new mother.

“Women I spoke to said I thought it was hormones, I was just so tired, I wasn’t getting enough sleep. I thought that was just part of being a new mother.”

Alison says there’s a lot of disagreement about what causes PND. She believes it’s a mixture of things – “multifactorial, as they say”.

Alison McCulloch

Alison McCulloch. Photo: supplied

The fact that the condition occurs in all cultures and throughout history indicates it may be independent of environment, although it can “rev up” other emotional challenges. Guilt and shame are common themes.

"There’s definitely something going on physiologically… brain chemistry. People think it’s hormonal, but that’s possibly more the baby blues than postnatal depression, from my reading.”

What is the difference?

“If you’re still suffering after a couple of weeks, that’s not the baby blues.”

The flow-on effect PND can have on families makes treatment all the more important, Alison says. A doctor has described it to her as “an illness that chews up relationships and spits them out”.

Alison says three-quarters of cases resolve themselves within 18 months, but with treatment it can be resolved more quickly.

Read Alison's investigation into post-natal depression (a collaboration with scoop.co.nz) here.