Page last updated at 10:34 GMT, Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Too quick to assume depression?

By Anna Buckley
Producer, Am I Normal?

Lorna Sinclair with Robert and Zoe
Lorna Sinclair struggled after the birth of both of her children

Mother of two, Lorna Sinclair was diagnosed with post natal depression after the birth of her second child, son Robert.

However, she had the same problems after the birth of her first child, daughter Zoe, but with skilled care and attention was better able to cope.

One in eight women are now being diagnosed with post natal depression. There is no doubt it can be a very challenging time for new mothers, but not everyone believes medicalising motherhood is the solution.

Lorna's story suggests that if new mothers get the help they need, a medical diagnosis can often be avoided.

Could it be that the medical profession is turning the normal - if difficult - psychological transition to motherhood into an illness?

Medical labels can be useful but you have got to be able to peel them off
Lorna Sinclair
"Afternoons I found particularly difficult," she said, recalling the weeks after her daughter was born.

"My daughter had colic and cried constantly from about two in the afternoon till half seven at night.

"Often, I would find myself with her crying, and me holding on to her balling my eyes out as well".

This might sound like post natal depression but Lorna was not given a diagnosis after the birth of her first child.

Able to cope

She found looking after her first baby very challenging - but with the help of an excellent health visitor and support from family and friends, she was able to cope.

"My health visitor was great. I felt I could talk to her about anything," she said.

"Also I managed to get myself out of the house every day which helped.

"If you have the right support, you can get through things without it becoming an issue. But without that support, that's when things can go down the line."

I think that it can give women a too permanent sense that there is something wrong with them and that can make them feel more fragile
Ellie Lee
However, when Robert was born two year later, Lorna was less well supported by a new health visitor plus, of course, she had a toddler to look after as well as a new baby.

"He was a much easier baby, but I stopped coping," she said.

"It ended up with a neighbour, who must have heard me screaming at the kids, popping round and offering to take Zoe for a walk.

"Afterwards I was talking to her and then to my mum who said: 'You know you're not right, you have just go to go and see somebody.'

"The doctor said he would recommend tablets. But to his credit, he accepted my reservations about taking medication and booked me an appointment at the mental health unit. At which point I thought: 'Oh no, I'm a nutter'.

"But when I got there they were fantastic. They just chatted away and said: 'Yes it is difficult, it won't happen overnight, but we are here to help'."

Crèche was key

From there Lorna was referred to a post natal service which offered all sorts of counselling, art therapy and a crèche.

There was a waiting list for counselling, but Lorna got a place at the crèche straight away, which she found as much help as the counselling which was later provided.

If Lorna was helped by something as everyday and as unmedical, as a few hours at a crèche every week, it begs the question: was a medical label really necessary in the first place?

The latest medical research suggests as many as one in eight women is now diagnosed with the condition, but sociologist Ellie Lee believes that for the majority of women post natal depression is not really an illness.

"I don't deny that a small minority of new mothers do face very serious mental health problems," said Dr Lee.

"But I think for most mothers it's much more everyday, much more something that we can all relate to and I'm not sure in those cases that calling it an illness really helps.

"I think that it can give women a too permanent sense that there's something wrong with them and that can make them feel more fragile."

There is no doubt a medical diagnosis helped Lorna Sinclair on the road to recovery - but she is the first to admit that medical labels can be hard to shake off.

"When I burst into tears at the doctors surgery recently, he immediately said you are depressed. I said: 'No, I'm not. I've been there and I know the difference' - but he wouldn't let it go.

"Medical labels can be useful but you have got to be able to peel them off."

• Am I Normal? is broadcast at 2100 on 3 March on BBC Radio 4

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