I am a new mother of a six-month-old girl. Recently, I have been losing control of my emotions at times. My frustration quickly turns to anger that I cannot control. For instance, I kicked a chair across the room today when a minor problem arose. I called a mental health hotline and was told I might be depressed, but I do not feel sad or suicidal. I have everything I want in life right now, I just don’t have control over my emotions — especially anger. Is this depression or something else?
Anger, agitation, and irritability, are classic symptoms of major depression — in fact, psychiatrists often speak of a special kind of major depression that they call an agitated depression. In this case, instead of feeling slowed down, passive, apathetic, or lethargic, the person is agitated, short-tempered, pacing about, and “spinning their wheels.” Depression is a common and serious disorder in women, especially during the postpartum period and while mothering very young children.
It is important that you educate yourself about the different aspects of depression and how it can manifest itself. People who are suffering from major depression do not always feel “down in the dumps” or depressed. Sometimes they simply feel physically unwell.
Besides depression, increased irritability can be a sign of another form of mood disorder — hypomania or mania, where a person’s mood swings in the “up” direction, but often in a way that does not feel very pleasant. The person can be full of nervous energy, talkative, and pressured, but at the same time experience severe irritability, angry outbursts — even disruptive or violent behavior.
The mood swing of mania or hypomania (a less severe form of mania) are part of what is called bipolar disorder, or manic-depressive illness. People with hypomania often do not experience themselves as being in an abnormal mood state — generally, it is their spouses who notice something.
The postpartum period is a very high-risk time for women in terms of mood disorders such as depression or bipolar disorder, as well as other serious psychiatric disorders. This is probably due to the important fluctuations in hormones that happen in a woman’s brain and body after she gives birth. It can often happen that a woman has her first episode of a mood disorder (whether it is major depression, or whether it is part of a bipolar disorder) shortly after having her first baby — even when she is feeling satisfied and happy about being a mother.
I strongly urge you to obtain an evaluation from a mental health professional who has experience with mood disorders in women (preferably a psychiatrist). It is likely that you will benefit greatly from appropriate diagnosis and treatment. The changes in behavior you are experiencing affect not just yourself, but also the healthy development of your new baby.