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Explaining postnatal depression using excerpts from Adele’s interview in Vanity Fair

Postnatal depressionOne in every 10 women experience postnatal depression within a year after they give birth. This type of depression develops gradually and consists of the usual symptoms, such as feeling low, being tired, lack of enjoyment, difficulties with sleep and concentration, and avoiding others. There are also some specific experiences regarding difficulties bonding with the baby and having negative thoughts, such as harming the baby.

Although the cause of postnatal depression is not well known yet, there are two key factors that are strongly associated with the condition: a history of mental health difficulties and/or a concurrent stressful experience that may well lead to current mental health difficulties. The latter could be a poor relationship with one’s partner, lack of support from family or friends, a traumatic life event such as bereavement, or even the life-changing event of having a baby itself.

Individuals with postnatal depression might share a common cluster of symptoms such as having negative thoughts and feeling low, however their experiences differ. Let’s look a bit closer at how such an experience may develop over time using the singer Adele as a case study. Adele recently talked openly to Vanity Fair about her struggle to adjust to motherhood and having postnatal depression.

Excerpts from her interview shed light on the thoughts she had at the time. Psychologically relevant to this condition were her thoughts about feeling “inadequate” to carry out her role as a mother. This theme of “not being good enough” is a well-known negative thought pattern that makes mothers conclude that they are failing and thus makes them feel sad. They can reach this conclusion via several unhelpful thinking styles or mind traps. The following are a few examples of these mind traps:

  • adopting an all or nothing view of the situation;
  • only paying attention to certain types of evidence;
  • disqualifying any achievements;
  • jumping to conclusions by imagining what others think of them as a mother;
  • assuming because they feel they are failing as a mother it must be true;
  • negatively labelling themselves;
  • using critical words such as “should” and “must” that make them feel guilty;
  • blaming themselves for everything.

Adele also said that while depressed she felt having a child was “the worst decision” of her life. This thought represents another mind trap called “catastrophising or magnification”, i.e., a tendency to blow things out of proportion that can further feed a mother’s negative emotions, such as regret or feeling trapped.

She described how one “constantly [tries] to make up for stuff when you’re a mum” and that she doesn’t mind “because of the love [she feels] for him.” This is a strong internal motivation that mothers can feel to keep pushing themselves and keep offering care, love, and support. At times, however, this motivation might have negative effects on the mothers themselves, since a non-stop effort to care for their babies can result in forgetting to take care of themselves. This results in isolation, more negative thoughts and feelings, and potential burnout.

Adele explained that her situation improved when she confided in a friend and when she started taking an afternoon a week to herself. These two steps can have huge benefits to mothers, and are also the first two steps of an intervention during psychological therapy. The first gives a mother a chance to share their experiences (their negative thoughts and feelings) and to normalise them by challenging their thinking styles and adjusting their expectations. The second allows them to realise the importance of taking care of themselves so that they can recharge their energy, and develop the necessary stamina to keep offering the care and need their babies require.

Finally, Adele said that when she was asked if she feels bad about taking time off for herself, she responded “not as bad as I’d feel if I didn’t do it”. This is such a golden truth because over time mothers who don’t take care of themselves risk experiencing the ugliest face of postnatal depression. Therefore, it is imperative that they take care of their own wellbeing at the same time as they take care of their babies.

If you are a mother, look out for yourself. Get into the habit of keeping a journal with brief daily entries to enable you to monitor your mood, thoughts, and behaviour. This will be sufficient to help you realise if you experience these symptoms over time so that you will know when to seek help. Do seek help before the symptoms begin to affect you even more, and start ot have an impact on your baby and partner. Do not struggle alone. There is help available, and with the right intervention you can work out the challenges and embrace motherhood. The way you think, feel, and behave during postnatal depression is far more common than you think.


Dr Patapia Tzotzoli

Dr Patapia Tzotzoli founded My Psychology Clinic where she gained her reputation working as Clinical Psychologist with clients on one to one basis in London and worldwide via online therapy. She specialises in adult mental health and couples therapy. Studied at the universities of East London, Oxford and Cambridge and trained at the Institute of Psychiatry where she worked across world-renowned NHS Trusts.

Dr Patapia TzotzoliMedical LiveWire Award Winner

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