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In what is dubbed the happiest time of a woman’s life, some moms-to-be feel anything but joyous.
Prepartum depression, or depression during pregnancy, is a mood-related disorder that lasts for weeks or months at a time and interferes with daily life.
“There’s no one single cause of prenatal depression and it can affect any mother, regardless of their race, income, age, cultural background or education,” Dr. Jazmine McCoy, a clinical psychologist in California, told TODAY Parents.
For actor Shay Mitchell, prepartum depression wasn’t even something she knew about before experiencing it while pregnant with daughter, Atlas. Only when she began sharing her story did the new mom realize just how common it can be.
"When I first started speaking out about it, just the influx of women telling me about their personal experiences with it too also helped me feel less alone," Mitchell, 33, said in an interview with TODAY Parents. "Which is the whole reason I wanted to speak out about it at the beginning, because I think I had heard so much about postpartum depression, but not so much about prepartum which is equally as important, just less talked about."
The former “Pretty Little Liars” star said that in her first postpartum appointment after giving birth in October 2019, she was handed a questionnaire by her doctor asking about emotions and how she was feeling.
“I wish they would have given me that during pregnancy,” she shared.
About 7% of women experience depression during pregnancy, according to the Mayo Clinic.
McCoy added that for pregnant women, the stigma of depression during pregnancy is two-fold.
“Not only may they feel stigmatized for struggling with depression, but they may also fear being seen as a ‘bad mother’ who can’t take care of her child,” she said. “In our culture, there is an unspoken expectation that mothers should naturally enjoy pregnancy. There is pressure on women to feel nothing but joy and gratitude for their new baby. However, for many mothers, it can feel unsafe to admit when their feelings are the exact opposite, leading them to avoid disclosing their symptoms.”
Common signs of prenatal depression include:
- Persistent sadness, hopelessness, and/or guilt
- Anxious thoughts or excessive worries about you and/or your baby’s health
- Trouble with sleep
- Feeling fatigued and/or lacking motivation
- Bouts of crying
- Loss of interest in activities that once brought you joy
- Overeating and/or loss of appetite
- Trouble staying focused
- Social isolation
- Having thoughts about death and/or suicide
Mitchell told TODAY that while experiencing pregnancy depression she didn’t want advice or opinions, or even a pat on the back.
“For me personally, I really just wanted someone to hear me out and just to listen and be like ‘ugh I feel you, that sucks’ and just listen,” she shared. “Fortunately for me I had a really good circle of friends, and family and, of course, my partner who did just that. Really when somebody comes to you feeling this way, just listen.”
Because of her experience, Mitchell, who has partnered with Pampers Swaddlers on their #SwaddlersSkinIsAlwaysIn campaign, is passionate about sharing her story to help other moms.
“I’m learning that while motherhood is the most incredible experience it’s not always easy and I know I can be really hard on myself sometimes,” Mitchell said in the brand’s announcement. “I often worry about being ‘good enough’ as a mom, and if I listen to myself for too long, it can take away from the joy of the moment. So, I’m striving to be kinder to myself and to try to see myself through my daughter’s eyes.”
The Canadian actor is not the first to speak out on experiencing depression during pregnancy. Katy Perry and Jillian Harris have shared their experiences. Most recently, the former Meghan Markle opened up about the dark period she faced while expecting.
"It’s so important to emphasize that any woman can experience prenatal depression," McCoy added. "Please know this has nothing to do with your ability to be a good mother or your inherent love for your child. With adequate support and treatment, you can begin to feel better."