Lynne Murray, FBA is a British psychopathologist and academic, specialising in child development. She is Professor of Developmental Psychology at the University of Reading. She has authored The Social Baby (2000) and The Psychology of Babies (2014), in addition to more than 200 academic papers.
Areas of Interest
Impact of parental psychiatric disorder on child development, particularly postnatal depression; intergenerational transmission of psychopathology.
Research groups / Centres
Psychopathology and Affective Neuroscience; Winnicott Research Unit; Lifespan Development
Postnatal Depression & the Under-Twos by Lynne Murray
We are all familiar with the term ‘Baby Blues’ when a woman can feel happy one minute, sad and cry for no reason the next. These moods swings can last a few hours or up to two weeks after childbirth. However, up to 20% of women can develop a more debilitating mental illness during pregnancy or after the birth including antenatal and Postnatal Depression (PND), obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and postpartum psychosis, Perinatal mental illness is rapidly becoming a major public health issue that needs our urgent attention.
Symptoms of PND are similar to depression at other times and include a prolonged period of low mood, and profound loss of interest and enjoyment. Other symptoms are mood-related disturbances in sleep, irritability, concentration impairment, retardation, agitation, feelings of guilt and hopelessness, and suicidal thoughts and impulses.
These symptoms are likely to affect a mother’s interpersonal relationships, including with her infant. Difficulties in bonding with the infant have been found when mothers are depressed, as well as problems with general caretaking, including reduced breastfeeding, inappropriate accessing of medical services, and poor sleep management.
Depressed mothers are often caught up in their own experience, and studies of mother-infant face-to-face engagement in the postnatal months show they find it difficult to focus on their infant and notice their signals and interests, and respond appropriately. These difficulties can raise the risk of poorer cognitive functioning of their infants and preschool children. These difficulties are particularly likely if the mother experiences additional problems, such as living in conditions of poverty or low social support, and when the mother’s depression is more severe and persists. Although difficulties in mother-child relationships in the context of PND have been highlighted, it should be stressed that this does not always apply, and some depressed mothers are highly sensitive to their infants and young children and have good relationships with them.
There is no good evidence that PND can be prevented, and therefore it is important to understand the strengths and limitations of available treatments, and their implications for the child, and that rigorous effective treatments be developed. These should be of sufficient intensity and duration to prevent the child’s exposure to PND and associated parenting difficulties through at least the first 2 years.
‘Perinatal depression, anxiety and psychosis carry a total long-term cost to society of about £8.1 billion for each one-year cohort of births in the UK. We hope that this shocking statistic will motivate policy makers, commissioners and providers to act urgently. It is in their power to do something about this issue: if perinatal mental health problems were identified and treated quickly and effectively, many of these serious and long term human and economic costs could be avoided. With the right support, women can recover from these illnesses’.
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