A Looking Glass into  

3 posts
3/3/2006 3:15 pm

Last Read:
3/20/2006 4:39 pm

A Looking Glass into

A Looking Glass into “The Baby Blues”: Understanding Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression, albeit uncommon, can be a gravely horrible condition. Even with all of mans medical knowledge, this disorder has proven elusive in many respects.

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines depression as a mental disorder which is accompanied by various negative thoughts and feelings such as sadness, oversleeping, and even suicidal inclination (Definition of depression). To further reiterate this simple definition, the Oxford Textbook of Psychotherapy gives its insight: “Depression can be thought of as a mood state, a syndrome involving a collective of symptoms irrespective of the presence of other psychological or medical disorders, or as a nosological category with both inclusionary and exclusionary characteristics” (Davis 205). In other words, depression is not a single state of mind, but on the contrary, a grouping of many mental disorders into one large overall disorder. These mental disorders, link in such a way that the effect is common enough that patients can easily be diagnosed with depression as a whole.

With the exception of anxiety, depression is the most common form of mental disorder in the world. Usually ailing those from ages 20 to 40, depression can last from as little as 6 months, to as long as 2 years without medical attention. Depression is indiscriminate however, as any
age, race, and sex, is vulnerable to its attack, and even when recovered from, depression can later return at any time within a person’s lifespan (Beers 614).

Depression has many causes which range
from not only the mental domain, but in the physical domain as well. Many diseases, which attack specialized chemical producing parts of the body such as the thyroid, the hypothalamus, and the pancreas, inhibit the body from producing enough of a certain chemical; this is called a chemical imbalance (615). Moving onto the physical of the mental domain; the brain is susceptible to this imbalance as well. “It is said that depression is not an outcome of how an individual is relating and responding to various life situations, but is the outcome of some sort of internal chemical imbalance” (Rossman 16). The idea is that the brain has an equilibrium of chemicals inside of it that regulate various emotions. When there is too much, or too little of one of these chemicals, depending on the chemical type, this imbalance will cause a state of depression. Many psychologists however -- including Neil Rossman -- reject this claim, and explain that the depression itself is the cause of the imbalance (16).

Other than the physical reasons, depression is mostly caused by issues such as “A person’s social environment [...] divorce or a serious illness…” (Kleinman and Messina-Kleinman 206). Many times however, depression is caused by ones own internal dialog and outlook.
Negative thinking could itself cause depression. In addition, even if such thinking had been the cause of an episode, it could certainly maintain the episode once it started. For example, if a person believed 100% that ‘I’ve got no friends’ or ‘Nobody likes or respects me,’ then he or she will be less likely to phone a friend for support or to accept invitations, and as a result will become more isolated. This sequence of events will make the person’s recovery from low mood even more difficult. These thoughts and feelings could interact with each other in a damaging and vicious spiral (Segal et al. 22).
Negative thinking is damaging and vicious indeed, in fact many researchers have found that negative thinking can actually cause a person to become physically sick. Carl Ferre, in his book “Poket Guide to Macro Biotics”, explains that those who think positively heal at a faster rate than those whose minds are preoccupied with negative thoughts (106). Ferre further explains that these thoughts can actually affect the T-cells within the immune system, making a person more susceptible to sickness (106).

There are many numerous types of depression, and their causes are even further numerous. One type of depression, which is very common and unique is called post partum psychosis; also known as “the baby blues” (Rosenberg 3-5). This exclusively female malady is the feeling of a chemical imbalance shock a woman receives soon after child birth when her levels of estrogen and progesterone drop sharply (29). Post partum psychosis happens fairly regularly actually, and it usually resolves itself within 12 to 14 days (11). If however the psychosis takes longer than this time, the woman may be at risk of post partum depression (12).

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, in her famous story “The Yellow Wallpaper”, wrote about a women who was suffering from post partum depression. Based in the late 1800’s, when medicine was still in the dark ages, and psychology was even further behind, this woman -- whom has no name, so for the sake of this essay, she will be called Dear -- was prescribed what was called a “rest cure”, which entails taking “…tonics, and air and exercise, and journeys, and […] absolutely forbidden to ‘work’” (Gilman 572). Adhering to this advice, Dear and her husband went to live in a spooky house for an entire summer. During this time, Dear keeps a record of her current life, in the form of letters; she feels that writing helps vent her depression (577). “…women often talk about their problems and verbalize their feelings [to let them go]…” (Biebel and Koenig 19).

Becoming further depressed Dear has developed an obsession with the revolting wallpaper in the house. Her first thoughts of the wallpaper where simple examinations and remarks about its atrociousness, but Dear is later found examining the wallpaper a little too closely. “This paper looks to me as if it knew what a vicious influence it had! There is a recurrent spot where the pattern lolls like a broken neck and two bulbous eyes stare at you upside down” (575). Dear continues to involve herself with the preoccupation of this wallpaper, until finally it becomes a problem. “He [John] thought I was asleep first, but I wasn’t, and lay there for hours trying to decide whether that front pattern and the back pattern really did move together or separately” (57. The book “Conquering Postpartum Depression: A Proven Plan for Recovery” has this to say about Dear’s behavior; “Most new mothers will have concerns for the health and safety of their new babies. When an obsessive component is added to normal concerns, these
concerns quickly snowball into something that is out of control. This is particularly true when a new mother is not sleeping well” (Rosenberg et al. 16). Eventually, Dear’s obsession did snowball…into the size of a mountain: “At night, in any kind of light, in twilight, candlelight, lamplight, and worst of all by moonlight, it [The wallpaper] becomes bars! The outside pattern, I mean, and the woman behind is as plain as can be” (Gilman 579). Dear’s depression had evolved into schizophrenia because of her unchecked obsession. Not a common occurrence, but it is possible.

Gilman’s story is a work of fiction, but the events that took place within the story are all too real to countless women who have suffered from postpartum depression. Even though rare, this disorder can render a strong woman into a fearful and erratic state. In a few extreme cases, women have been known to desire to kill their children, and some have even carried out this horrible act; Mrs. Yates from Texas is one such story (Rosenberg et al. 70). Leaps and bounds are continually being made by psychiatrists as well as endocrinologists in the study of this unfortunate condition. They don’t have all the answers to the mystery that is post partum depression, but with continued effort, their work will bear fruit.

Works Cited
Beers, Mark H. The Merck Manual of Medical Information. 2nd Home ed. Rahway:
Merck and Co, 2003.
Biebel, David B., and Harold G Koenig. New Light on Depression: Help, Hope, and
Answers for the Depressed and Those Who Love Them. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004.
Davis, Roger D. Oxford Textbook of Psychopathology. New York: Oxford University
Press, 1999.
"Definition of depression." 2004. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 15 Dec. 2005
Ferre, Carl. Pocket Guide to Macrobiotics. Berkely: The Crossing Press, 1997.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. "The Yellow Wallpaper" Literature: An Introduction to
Fiction, Poetry, and Drama, Interactive Edition. Ed. X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. Reading: Longman, 2004. 572, 575, 577-579.
Kleinman, Lowell, and Deborah Messina-Kleinman. The Complete Idiot's Guide to
Quitting Smoking. Indianapolis: Alpha Books, 2000.
Rosenberg, Ronald, Greening Greening, and James Windell. Conquering Postpartum
Depression: A Proven Plan for Recovery. Cambridge: Da Capo Press, 2004.
Rossman, Neil. Consciousness: Separation and Integration. Albany: State University of
New York Press, 1991.
Segal, Zindel V., J Mark G. Williams, and John D. Teasdale. Mindfulness-Based
Cognitive Therapy for Depression: A New Approach to Preventing Relapse. New York: The Guilford Press, 2002.

Become a member to create a blog