24 February 2016

Namibia: When Depression Leads to Baby Dumping

Photo: Lydia Atieno/The New Times
(file photo).

Baby dumping is a crime, but experts say it is also a cry for help, and its causes include many social and cultural factors as well as mental instability.

According to Windhoek clinical psychologist Shaun Whittaker, these contributory mental illnesses vary from postpartum psychosis, postpartum depression and postnatal depression.

Whittaker said the difference between these conditions is that postnatal depression has long been recognised as a debilitating illness, and postpartum depression as a clinical illness.

"Postpartum depression does not have just one cause, but is probably the result of multiple factors. However, nobody is sure about its causes," said Whittaker.

While postpartum psychosis is rare. A woman who has bipolar disorder or another psychiatric problem called schizoaffective disorder has a higher risk for developing postpartum psychosis.

A social worker who asked not to be named at the Women and Child Protection Unit now known as Gender-Based Violence Investigation Unit (GBVIU) said they receive cases where mentally ill mothers dump their babies because they do not understand their situations.

"But in most cases women especially teenagers are going through depression that is usually caused by either emotional and stressful events. It could be factors from an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy, lack of family support or some biological factor which leads to an imbalance of brain chemicals," said the social worker.

The social worker further said family members should look out for signs and symptoms of these types of depression.

"Sometimes parents or family members will not be aware that their teenage daughter is expecting a baby but signs like feelings of sadness, bleakness or hopelessness are pointers," the social worker said.

Other signs are: lack of interest or pleasure in doing anything; sleeping too much, feeling tired or having little energy, overeating or lack of appetite; low self-esteem; feelings of guilt or failure; difficulty concentrating; fidgeting a lot; moving and speaking very slowly and thoughts of suicide or self-harm.

How can my depression be treated?

There are two main types of treatment available: psychological treatments and medication. Every woman is different, so your doctor will work with you to find the best treatment, or combination of treatments, for you.

Is there anything I can do to relieve my depression?

Depression can make it hard for you to prioritise your own needs. If you can do them, the following self-help techniques could help to lift your mood:

Talk about it: You may find that sharing your concerns with your partner, friends and family can help you feel better. They may be able to offer some perspective or practical help, and you could also find that simply talking about your problems makes them seem more manageable.

It can also be helpful to talk to other pregnant women who know exactly what you are going through. Baby Centre's online antenatal classes can be a great support network. Or you can always chat to sympathetic fellow mums-to-be who know what you're going through in our friendly community.

Take time to relax: Stress is a common trigger for depression, so be sure to give yourself a break every now and then. It is understandable if you want to have everything ready before the baby arrives, but she'll need you to be happy and healthy too.

Relaxing can sometimes be easier said than done, especially if you already have children. But try to accept any help you can get, and allow yourself some "me-time". Lunch out with your partner, half an hour's reading before bed, or a calming bath could all lift your mood. Our feel-good pregnancy calendar has plenty of ideas for how to treat yourself in your first, second and third trimesters.

Look after yourself: It can be difficult to take proper care of yourself when you are feeling low.

And pregnancy symptoms such as nausea and fatigue can make it even trickier.

However, eating well, exercising and getting enough sleep are all important in the fight against depression.

Exercise in particular is great for you and your baby, and it releases feel-good chemicals that boost your mood. Go for a gentle stroll, take a leisurely swim, or for extra relaxation, try some pregnancy yoga.

With agencies

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