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Understanding The Cycle Of Depression

Reflecting on the cycle of depression can help your client understand what PND means for them. Here we see an example of a depression cycle.
Mum laying next to baby
© University of Exeter

In order to understand the cycle of depression, a good place to start is to find out what your client already knows about low mood and post-natal depression. Sometimes it can be difficult for a mother to know if she has PND, as her idea of depression may be similar to some of the normative experiences of motherhood (discussed before in the course).

  • What does PND mean for them, for how they are as a mum?

  • How does PND differ from regular depression?

Diagram showing the depression cycle. Three cogs 1. Physical 2. Mood 3. Behaviours. All linked in a cycle. Examples of physical symptoms: Tired all the time, lack of energy, Crying, sad, sleep disruption, change in appetite, pain, loss of libido, personal neglect. Examples of how mood may be effected: Self-blame, critical internal voice, impaired concentration, withdrawal from family & friends, loss of motivation, suicidal ideation. Examples of behaviours exhibited: Self-neglect or avoidance, unable to meet daily functioning.

Below are examples of how a woman may feel about motherhood; no specific symptoms but a mix of emotions, cognitions, a feeling of discontent.

  • Inability to experience the ups, i.e. the moments of bonding and only being able to feel and experience the downs
  • General feeling of unhappiness 

  • Inability to relax, being too busy 

  • Sense of going through the motions – no sense of accomplishment 

  • Doing all the right things, but they feel like they’re doing the worst things
  • Sense that all the tasks are endless – a perpetual cycle of menial jobs
  • Feelings of being desperately alone and solely responsible, with no-one to understand or help them


Perinatal mothers are often functioning at a high level in order to care for their baby and so may not appreciate that their health and wellbeing has been compromised. 


© University of Exeter
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Addressing Postnatal Depression as a Healthcare Professional

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