Maternal mental health issues are increasingly discussed these days, which is a positive thing! You have most likely heard of postpartum depression. And you probably even know someone who has suffered from this condition. Postpartum depression is a type of depression that occurs after childbirth. But what you may not know is that expectant and new parents are also at risk for anxiety disorders. Additionally, fathers are also at risk for depression and anxiety when having a new child. As these conditions can also occur during pregnancy, “perinatal” depression or anxiety is a more accurate term than postpartum. “Perinatal” means “about childbirth,” which includes pregnancy and post-childbirth. Perinatal anxiety conditions include general anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Unfortunately, there is not a lot of research on perinatal anxiety conditions compared to postpartum depression. But we do know that there is an increased risk of anxiety in the time surrounding childbirth. Research suggests a rate of about 16 percent for postpartum mothers and 10 percent for postpartum fathers. This is similar to the rate of postpartum depression at 13 percent in mothers and 10 percent in fathers. Many anxious parents are also depressed. But this is not always the case. Therefore it’s important to also recognize perinatal anxiety as a distinct condition.
So what do I need to know?
Contrary to popular belief, most cases of maternal mental health disorders (including postpartum depression and anxiety) are not primarily caused by hormones. These conditions are strongly linked to a previous mental health history. Additionally, there may be a family or genetic predisposition for anxiety-related conditions. Also, perinatal mental health conditions are shaped by the major life change and new responsibilities of having a child. For some parents, this is the first time they experience symptoms like these. Others have a history of having an anxious personality or previous symptoms of anxiety. But becoming a parent can lead to more clinically severe symptoms. Parenthood comes with a lot of new roles and responsibilities, which can trigger or worsen perinatal anxiety.
Further, parenting is such an important cultural value and social responsibility that parents often experience additional guilt and anxiety if they believe they are not a good parent. Social pressure often leads to unrealistic expectations for parenthood. And this can cause anxiety when social media images are not realized in real life.
How does this affect my child?
Maternal mental health conditions can have adverse consequences on child development. Fortunately, effective treatment can lessen or prevent these negative consequences. Many parents do not seek mental health services because they may feel their symptoms do not match with the textbook symptoms for postpartum depression in new mothers. Therefore, increased awareness of the diversity of perinatal anxiety is important for helping people find and receive effective mental health care.
Most parents experience a little sadness or anxiety after a child is born. This is referred to as the “baby blues.” However, symptoms that last beyond two weeks and/or interfere with functioning should be examined further. It is difficult to exactly define perinatal anxiety, including the time frame that should be used to define these conditions. Most experts suggest a broad view, in which mental health conditions occurring anytime during pregnancy or a full year postpartum should be monitored and treated as a perinatal issue.
So how can music therapy help?
Music therapy provides opportunities to:
- Explore personal feelings and therapeutic issues such as self-esteem or personal insight
- Make positive changes in mood and emotional states
- Have a sense of control over life through successful experiences
- Enhance awareness of self and environment
- Express oneself both verbally and non-verbally
- Develop coping and relaxation skills
- Support healthy feelings and thoughts
- Improve reality testing and problem solving skills
- Interact socially with others
- Improve concentration and attention span
- Adopt positive forms of behavior
Outcomes that are documented in music therapy research:
- Reduced muscle tension
- Improved self-image
- Increased self-esteem
- Decreased anxiety/agitation
- Increased verbalization
- Enhanced interpersonal relationships
- Improved motivation
- Successful and safe emotional release
As always, I’m happy to answer your questions about music therapy and how it might fit into your treatment! So feel free to contact me anytime.