Our culture has recently made strides in learning how to better discuss mental health and emotional well-being in ways that our parents and grandparents could never have done.
And yet, as individuals, many of us remain far away from a place of deep understanding and acceptance of what it means to be emotionally healthy, safe and proactive.
Depression remains one of the most common conditions of emotional ill-health and, sadly, both pregnancy/post-partum and having an autoimmune disease increase the risk of developing depression.
Awareness of this risk and education about depression can help prepare you to recognize symptoms and access early effective treatment.
While medication is often helpful and necessary, it is best used as one component of a comprehensive plan that also includes developing healthy, supportive relationships, coping strategies such as:
- Exercise, meditation, and hobbies
- Clear and guilt-free boundaries
- Rejuvenating activities such as quality sleep
- Talk-therapy or personal retreat
- Nourishing food
There’s no time like the present to start working toward some of these skills so that if depression strikes, you will have some tools to get yourself on the road to recovery. If depression has already entered into your life, working on the above is a difficult but worthwhile endeavor.
Why is depression so common in pregnancy and autoimmune disease?
Depression is now widely understood to involve a chemical imbalance in the brain. The tremendous hormonal shifts of pregnancy and, quite possibly, the inflammatory state of autoimmunity may put the body/mind into an imbalanced state, as well. However, these biochemical imbalances don’t entirely explain why some people get depressed and others don’t. Genetics play a role in who develops depression though specific genes are not yet identified. Finally, the concept of “resilience” or a person’s ability to rebound from challenges has been shown to offer protection against depression.
How do I develop resilience when I’ve got children, a job, a partner, bills and aging parents to worry about?
The answer is both simple and seemingly impossible. Get started now. Today. Drink one extra glass of water; laugh at yourself just once today instead of judging; walk outside, alone, for ten minutes. Start very small and stick with it. This is not the only thing necessary to manage depression but it’s important; think of it as refilling your reserve tank a little at a time. Here are some additional suggestions – top 10 tips for developing resilience from PicktheBrain.com.
Learning how to set healthy boundaries in your relationships is so integral to resilience that AutoimmuneMom.com has another article dedicated to the subject. Read “No Apologies Needed: Making Space, Improving Health”.
I am concerned I’m already depressed. What should I do?
If you feel severely depressed and are thinking about hurting yourself or someone else, please get to an Emergency Room immediately. There is help available. If it is not severe, but it is limiting your ability to enjoy your life, please speak to your provider regarding medications and your friends/family regarding a path toward resilience. Recognizing and discussing the problem is an enormous step in the right direction.
Questions for your doctor
- What are my treatment options and how will they affect my pregnancy or breastfeeding?
- Are there any interactions with my medications for my autoimmune disease?
- Do you have any therapists you recommend?
John Wiley & Sons, Inc. (2007, March 9). New Insights Into Autoimmunity and Depression. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 30, 2012
About the Author
Kathi Kuntz, RN, MSN holds a Bachelor’s and a Master’s Degree in Nursing from the University of Pennsylvania. Her specialization is in the healthcare of women and her graduate research thesis was on autoimmune disease in pregnancy. She has over ten years of clinical practice experience. Currently, Kathi is on an adventure living and traveling with her husband and two young sons in Australia.