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Suppressing Positive Emotions Can Lead to Postpartum Depression

Suppressing Positive Emotions Can Lead to Postpartum DepressionNew research discovers that the suppression of positive feelings can play an important role in the development of postpartum depression.

Investigators believe this finding has implications for the treatment of depressed mothers.

In a study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research, investigators from University of Leuven (KU Leuven) in Belgium posit that depression is characterized by both negative feelings and a lack of positive feelings. They suspected that this may have to do with the way depression-prone individuals deal with positive or happy feelings.

For example, these individuals downplay or suppress positive feelings through a cognitive response style called dampening. Typical dampening responses include: “These good feelings won’t last, you’ll see,” “I can’t forget that things weren’t always this good,” and “I probably don’t deserve to be this happy.”

Researcher and psychologist Dr. Filip Raes used this knowledge to investigate whether dampening of positive emotions also lies at the root of postpartum depression.

Researchers polled around 200 women once during and twice after their pregnancies. The women answered a questionnaire between the 24th and 34th weeks of pregnancy to determine depressive symptoms and cognitive responses to negative and positive emotions. They were then polled for depressive symptoms at 12 weeks and 24 weeks postpartum.

In about eight percent of the mothers, responses indicated symptoms consistent with postpartum depression.

Dampening was found to be a statistically significant predictor of women’s depressive symptoms postpartum. The more a mother indicated dampening responses to happy feelings, the higher the level of depressive symptoms experienced postpartum.

Surprisingly, dwelling on negative feelings (depressive rumination) was not found to be indicative of postnatal depression.

Researchers say the results show for the first time that the suppression of positive feelings plays a significant role in depression.

As a result, when determining the contributing factors of postpartum depression, the manner in which respondents deal with positive feelings appears to be at least as important as — and in some cases even more important than — the manner in which they deal with negative feelings.

In turn, these findings point to a need for (preventive) treatment techniques to address the suppression or dampening of positive feelings alongside maladaptive responses to negative feelings (such as depressive rumination).

The researchers are currently working to develop a treatment method focused specifically on counteracting dampening.

Currently, cognitive-behavioral therapy and techniques such as mindfulness may also have a positive effect on dampening, say the researchers.

Source: KU Leuven

Suppressing Positive Emotions Can Lead to Postpartum Depression

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Suppressing Positive Emotions Can Lead to Postpartum Depression. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 30 Apr 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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