Researchers, clinicians and postpartum depression advocates are ALWAYS trying to determine the causes and risk factors of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. What we know for sure is that these illness are most likely caused by disruptions and challenges in a mom’s hormones and brain chemistry, sleep patterns, nutrition, and social support. And we know, of course, that negative thinking patterns (perfectionist thinking, black and white thinking, catastrophic thinking, for example) can also lead a mom toward an increase in depression and anxiety when she is caring for a newborn. But last week, an article written for health providers in The Journal of Maternal-Fetal and Neonatal Medicine caught my eye. Is it possible that we can determine the likelihood of an episode of postpartum depression dependent on a mom’s personality?
The article suggests that a personality that they call “Typus melancholicus” is the one most likely to struggle emotionally after her baby comes. The article attributes the following characteristics to this personality type: orderliness, conscientiousness, hyper-heterononia (I didn’t know what this meant either; it describes someone who obsessively follows social norms), and intolerance of ambiguity (in other words, doesn’t like it when she doesn’t know what to expect). This personality type that the article refers to as TM, is further characterized by “over-normal behavior, extreme social adjustment and conformism, and a fixation with order at work, in the family, and in interpersonal relationships, in an attempt to meet the expectations of significant others.”
Moms with this personality type are, apparently, hypersensitive to expectations during pregnancy and are the moms who follow recommendations to a tee. They are also the moms who are unable to delegate childcare tasks to anyone else once the baby comes. The article describes having a child and becoming a parent as a “crises” because it forces women to suddenly manage the conflict that occurs instantaneously between the roles of woman, wife/partner, mother, and worker. The TM personality struggles with creatively managing the conflict that occurs between these roles as her need to meet expectation of others makes this virtually impossible to do without flaw. And these moms don’t tolerate flaw easily.
So, I wondered back … does this match up with the women who I have seen in my office for the treatment of postpartum depression and anxiety? Can I fit the moms who I have seen into this category and personality type? Is it even fair to do so? This last question has literally kept me up at night (yes, even I need to practice my breathing when trying to sleep). I get uncomfortable when trying to fit women with postpartum depression into a box, especially because much of the work that I do revolves around helping women see that PPD is NOT a character flaw. So, is it helpful to use this understanding of personality in identifying women who may be at risk, or is it somewhat like a personality form of racial profiling?
I write this post today because I am eager to hear from all of you. If you are someone who has struggled postpartum, do these characteristics resonate with your sense of self? Does it feel helpful to have OBGYNs, pediatricians, and nurses looking for this personality type when mindfully and intentionally trying to identify the women who may be at risk of developing a postpartum mood or anxiety disorder?
Let’s get this conversation started…
— Kate Kripke, LCSW
Editor’s Note: Hey y’all. This is Katherine. I’m really looking forward to your feedback on this as well. If I’m being honest, I’m very much someone along the conscientiousness, intolerance of ambiguity, unable to delegate childcare tasks to anyone else type. How about you? How does this make you feel either way?