Can an Unplanned Pregnancy Cause Depression?

sad young woman seated against a wall

Coming to terms with an unplanned pregnancy can create a great deal of stress. There are suddenly so many emotions to deal with, realities to face and decisions to make. And this type of acute stress can indeed lead to depression for some women. Depression can also occur later in pregnancy, and may go undiagnosed.

Defining Depression

Depression is a fairly broad term representing a collection of mental/emotional conditions characterized by sad mood, negative thoughts and loss of interest in activities. Symptoms can vary greatly, from a general feeling of sadness to suicidal thoughts. When symptoms persist for more than two weeks and interfere with your ability to life your daily life, a medical diagnosis of depression can be made.

Depression in Pregnancy

The shock and emotional weight of learning of an unplanned pregnancy can lead to an overactive response from your body’s stress mechanisms. Your system may become flooded with excess amounts of cortisol, a hormone that plays a major role in regulating how your brain perceives and deals with threats. At the same time, levels of hormones such as serotonin and dopamine, which are designed to help you feel joy, may decrease. That combination, when continued for an extended period, produces acute stress induced depression.

Depression can actually occur at any point during pregnancy, and it’s not uncommon. In fact, research shows up to 13% of pregnant women experience depression. Constant shifts in body chemistry, particularly hormone balance, along with stress and anxiety create a perfect environment for depression to develop.

Depression is also fairly common post-pregnancy, which is known as postpartum depression. Postpartum depression isn’t just the standard “baby blues” some women experience for a short period after childbirth. Postpartum depression is long-lasting and characterized by intense depressed mood, severe mood swings, difficulty bonding with the baby, hopelessness and more. It’s a serious clinical disorder that must be treated by a medical professional.

Getting Help for Depression

If you even suspect you may be experiencing depression, you should tell your doctor right away. Depression is a serious psychological and medical condition that should be treated by a specially trained physician. In most cases, a mix of mood-stabilizing medications and therapy are prescribed in order to achieve the best results.

Women experiencing severe depression symptoms, particularly those considering harming themselves or others, should act immediately to get help. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers a free and confidential 24-hour hotline you can call: 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Dialing 911 is also an option.

Depression vs Anxiety

Not every woman who gets unexpectedly pregnant falls into depression. Many, however, do deal with serious bouts of anxiety. Anxiety is a feeling of fear, dread and uneasiness. And while uncomfortable, it generally lasts no more than several days, especially if you employ coping methods, such as breathing exercises, self-reflection, meditation and talking through your feelings with others. 

Getting Help with Pregnancy Anxiety

For women dealing with anxiety brought on by an unplanned pregnancy, talk therapy is often especially helpful, as the biggest contributor to this anxiety is usually uncertainty. What do I do know? What are my options? How do I tell the people I love? How can I find a path forward? A trained pregnancy counselor can often help you navigate those feelings, offer advice and provide concrete options and next steps.

If you’re currently dealing with the anxiety of an unplanned pregnancy, contact Sira in Gainesville today. Our team of trained pregnancy counselors are compassionate advocates, dedicated to providing you help for today and hope for tomorrow.

To schedule your free, confidential appointment, call Sira today at 352-377-4947.

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