The study, for the charity 4Children, says 35,000 mothers every year in Britain struggle with symptoms and do not get professional help. Irish support group, Postnatal Depression (PND) Ireland, estimates as many as one in five women here suffer from the illness.
Thousands more fail to receive treatment due to “serious shortcomings” in the system for referral, together with an “over-reliance” on antidepressants and the stigma attached to the condition.
Madge Fogarty, chairwoman of PND Ireland, said there is still a stigma attached to postnatal depression.
“There are girls we know of who are afraid to tell their own families for fear of being judged,” Ms Fogarty said.
The most important thing for women with PND was to be aware of the illness and to have the information necessary to tackle it, and not to “gloss over” how they felt, she said.
“For instance we give talks at the antenatal classes in Cork University Maternity Hospital (CUMH) which is great, but the drawback is we only give them to first-time mums. From our experience PND occurs in first-time mums about 50% of the time but the other 50% is in mums on subsequent babies. So our concern is that some women are falling through the net.”
Ms Fogarty, co-author of the book Recovering from Postnatal Depression, said the main thing was for women to talk to others about how they felt and to seek help early, otherwise the depression could become more entrenched. If some needed antidepressants, there was no shame in that, she said.
“If you had a heart problem or diabetes, you’d have to take a tablet, so what is the problem if you are depressed? It isn’t the end of the world, although I know some women find it hard to admit they can’t cope.”
Women at particular risk of PND include those with family history of PND/clinical depression, those who’ve had a bad birth experience, who strive to be supermum or who feel isolated at home.
Symptoms can include feeling very low, struggling to look after the baby, and finding simple tasks such as showering or cooking difficult.
While postnatal depression usually starts within a few months of birth, around one-in-three experience symptoms in pregnancy, which continue.
An Irish study published in June with input from the National Suicide Research Foundation found PND is significant for first-time mothers, ranging from 13.2% at six weeks to 9.8% at 12 weeks.
* For more information on supports available log onto PND.ie