Feelings of grief and depression are common after a miscarriage. Almost 60% of parents have depression following a miscarriage, lasting up to 1-3 years afterward. Symptoms include fatigue, isolation, feelings of guilt, and emptiness. Miscarriage is a tragic, often life-changing event. However, with available treatments and coping strategies, things can get better.
Depression After a Miscarriage
Depression after a miscarriage is common. Almost 60% of those experiencing miscarriage were found to be at increased risk for depression. Some of the risk factors for developing depression after miscarriage include being parents of a younger child, being further along in the pregnancy, a single relationship status, having a history of fertility treatment, or having previous miscarriages.2,3
Depression is a serious mental condition that can cause loss of motivation, increased isolation and feelings of hopelessness. Depression is different from feelings of sadness in that it persists for at least 2 weeks and is significant enough to limit one’s ability to function. It can impact sleep, appetite and energy, and feels like a dark cloud that will never clear.1
Postpartum Depression After a Miscarriage
Postpartum depression and depression symptoms are basically the same, with the primary difference being that postpartum depression occurs between 2 weeks and 1 year after giving birth or pregnancy loss. Postpartum depression is worsened by the hormonal changes that occur after pregnancy or miscarriage. Many people don’t realize that postpartum depression can still occur after a miscarriage or pregnancy loss. Someone who has experienced a miscarriage still experiences hormonal changes, along with dealing with the impact of grief and loss.
Both mothers and fathers can experience postpartum depression after a miscarriage. Postpartum depression in men impacts up to 1 in 4 fathers. The symptoms of postpartum depression are the same in both mothers and fathers. Fathers experience many of the same stressors as mothers when it comes to changes in the family dynamic, impact on sleep, and changes to the relationship between parents.4 Like postpartum women, men can also experience hormonal changes.
Symptoms of Depression After a Miscarriage
A parent experiencing depression following a miscarriage will have typical symptoms of depression along with feelings of grief and loss. Depression after a miscarriage can be short-term, or can develop into more long-term, chronic depression. The first year after a miscarriage is often the worst. Most people who suffer a miscarriage are back to their baseline levels of depression after one year.5
Common symptoms of depression after a miscarriage include:
- Changes in appetite and/or sleep
- Loss of motivation
- Feelings of emptiness
- Thoughts of dying or self-harm
7 Tips for Coping With Depression After a Miscarriage
Suffering from a miscarriage can be traumatic and heartbreaking, but there are ways to cope with the loss. Asking for help, maintaining normal routines, and practicing self-care are all healthy ways of coping with miscarriage. It’s important to be kind to yourself and to honor the grief process. Trying to rush through grief or push yourself past difficult feelings will likely just prolong the process.
Here are seven tips for coping with post-miscarriage depression:
1. Ask for Help When Needed
Don’t hesitate to ask for help. When recovering from a miscarriage, you may find that you have less physical and emotional energy available for everyday tasks and responsibilities. Loved ones can help you with some of these stressors, and also provide emotional support.
Expressing one’s needs is an important part of the healing process because it can help you feel less alone in your grief. If you worry about feeling like a burden, don’t. Others often want to help but don’t know how. Asking for what you need allows others to be of service to you, and may even strengthen your relationships.
2. Acknowledge Your Grief
Remember that grieving the loss of a child is a process. Grief is not a neat or linear experience, and you may go through many different emotions in a very short time. There is no wrong way to grieve. Allow yourself to acknowledge and feel what you feel without judgment. Partners can support each other through grief and depression by picking up the slack when the other is having a bad day, spending time with each other and reaching out to their individual support systems.
3. Practice Self-Compassion
Remember to go easy on yourself. Grief can be gut-wrenching and messy. You may also find times when you unexpectedly feel happy or joyful. Any of these feelings are acceptable. Try not to dwell on feelings of guilt or self-doubt as these are usually not helpful. You are experiencing a loss and it’s not your fault.
4: Encourage Loved Ones to Educate Themselves
Loved ones can unexpectedly make things worse when they don’t understand the symptoms of depression. For example, someone who is depressed may sleep a lot, isolate and not have much energy. Loved ones want to avoid taking this personally or being critical. When a loved one educates themselves on the grieving process, they are a lot more capable of providing useful help and support.
5: Practice Self-Care
This is a time to take excellent care of yourself. Start with the basics of self care: be sure to get enough sleep, drink plenty of water, seek emotional support, and eat nourishing food. Seek out activities that feel soothing and supportive, like reading a favorite book or going for a walk. If you have a religious or spiritual practice, this can be helpful too.
The benefits of self-care include lowered stress levels and a more positive outlook. Emotional self-care specifically refers to caring for your inner mental and emotional life and can help you process and heal from difficult emotions. Caring for yourself during this difficult time can help you move through the grief process in a healthy way.
6: Continue Normal Routines & Activities
One of the best things you can do after a loss or crisis is to return to normal activities. This is not to say you should push yourself to do more than you are ready for. However, returning to normal routines can often help you feel like yourself again. This can be especially important when there are small children in the household.
7: Memorialize Your Loss
Many find it helpful to have a memorial or ceremony to memorialize the loss. This can look very unique and different depending on your traditions and needs. Those who have experienced loss may plant a tree, release butterflies, create a special garden, place a plaque, or engrave a brick in a memorial pathway. These special ceremonies can help families develop a sense of closure and acceptance.
When to Seek Professional Help
Professional support may be needed if symptoms of depression last for several weeks and make it difficult to function in daily life. Depression treatment is important when one feels that things are not getting better or they cannot see a way out. Postpartum depression treatment with a therapist who specializes in perinatal loss can be a great choice, as these clinicians are trained to help others through this specific type of depression. Therapists who specialize in these areas can be found through online therapy platforms or online therapist directories.
Treatment options for depression after a miscarriage include:
- Grief counseling: Grief counseling is helpful for navigating through the stages of grief and finding meaning in loss.
- Family therapy: Family therapy is helpful when multiple members of a family are experiencing the loss and aren’t sure how to support each other, or if grief has impacted family relationships.
- Medication: Medications for depression can be beneficial when other measures have not been successful, when depression is severe, or when one feels hopeless. Sometimes, depression following a miscarriage can start with grief, but become more chronic. Medication can be a helpful tool for correcting the chemical imbalance that comes with clinical depression. An assessment for medication treatment can be done through online psychiatry providers, which make it convenient and accessible.
- EMDR: EMDR for depression is a helpful treatment when it is linked to trauma. This can be especially effective for someone who is experiencing trauma symptoms after the miscarriage, such as flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, avoidance of things that remind them of the loss or being easily startled.
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): ACT is an effective treatment for depression. This therapy is based on acceptance, mindfulness, and behavioral change.6
How to Support a Loved One With Depression After a Miscarriage
It can be difficult to witness someone you care about going through depression after a miscarriage, and sometimes it can feel hard to know what to do or say. However, there are ways you can help.
Ways you can support a loved one experiencing depression after a miscarriage include:
- Avoiding the temptation to minimize the loss: Many people, including healthcare providers, make this mistake. People are well-meaning when they say things about how common this is, or that the person experiencing the loss can try again. This is rarely helpful and can leave the person feeling more alone with their feelings.
- Avoid triggering language: Be sensitive to your loved one’s emotions by avoiding triggering language. This includes sharing stories about infant or child loss, or other people’s happy news regarding pregnancy or childbirth. Follow your loved one’s lead and try to avoid language that is triggering to them and can make things worse.
- Be patient: Overcoming depression after a miscarriage takes time and support, and there is no timeline for healing. Remind your loved one that you are there for them as long as their grieving process lasts.
- Become educated about symptoms of depression: Being aware of the symptoms of depression can help you be more understanding and validating when these symptoms arise.
- Offer additional support with housework: Someone who is experiencing depression after a miscarriage is likely to be exhausted, and feel emotionally drained. It can help to pitch in with some of the daily tasks that your loved one doesn’t have the capacity for.
- Encourage self-care: Self-care is critical for healing, and your loved one may be struggling with feelings of guilt or feeling selfish for taking care of themselves. Remind them that self-care is not selfish, it actually helps them care for others around them.
- Offer to listen, but don’t push your loved one to talk: It can be helpful to talk through feelings in order to process grief. Don’t pressure your loved one to talk, but offer a listening ear when they are ready. Be careful not to try to “fix” or problem-solve, just listen and offer validation and support.
Miscarriage is an extremely difficult experience, and dealing with additional depression can make it even worse. Seek professional help if symptoms of depression are negatively impacting your life or your relationships. Experiencing a miscarriage may be life-changing, but there are ways to overcome the feelings of depression that follow it. Take good care of yourself, and give yourself the time you need to heal.
For Further Reading
- What to Expect When Having a Rainbow Baby
- When Mother’s Day Is Really, Really Hard
- Best Books on Grief
- Postpartum Support International
- Bearing the Unbearable
- Finding Meaning