“There is no such thing as a baby. There is a baby and someone”
This quote by the pioneer of Developmental Psychology, Donald Winnicott summarises the essential role the primary caregiver, usually, the mother, plays in the life of a child. When a baby is born, a mother is too, and in looking after and responding to her needs, we are also caring for her baby.
1st May 2019 (the first Wednesday of May each year) marks World Maternal Mental Health Day. An international campaign to draw attention to the startling figures that surround this issue. It also aims to reach out to women who may be struggling and let them know they’re not alone.
Understanding Maternal Mental Health
Pregnancy and birth can be a particularly vulnerable time for women as they deal with life changes, physical and emotional challenges and adjustment to a new identity as a mother.
Traumatic birth, stillbirth, miscarriage, infertility, severe stress, poverty, previous mental health problems and injury can all increase the risk factors but every woman is at risk for developing mental health challenges during the perinatal period.
Mental illness does not discriminate and it is never the fault of the sufferer.
Most people may be familiar with the term ‘Post Natal Depression’ but maternal mental health issues are a lot broader than this. Feelings can range from sadness, anger, frustration, anxiety and depression to thoughts of harming yourself or your child. Whilst life isn’t always an easy ride and parenting has its fair share of challenges, prolonged or pervasive negative feelings should be a cause for concern.
It is thought that 70% of women suffering hide their symptoms.
Many people hold back from asking for help because of the stigma surrounding mental health. When it comes to maternal mental health, the challenge is even greater as women are told this is the best time of their life, that they are lucky and blessed and that they should be so happy. This can lead to feelings of shame if their lived experience doesn’t meet up to these standards.
Maternal mental health can affect the whole family system. It can have devastating consequences if not addressed and treated. The statistics show us why we should pay attention to this important topic:
- It is estimated that between 50-80% of mothers experience the ‘Baby Blues’ in the first few days after delivery.
- One in five mothers is at risk of experiencing significant mental health challenges during or after pregnancy.
- Postnatal depression is the most common problem associated with childbirth.
- Suicide is one of the leading causes of maternal death.
- Perinatal mental health problems left untreated can have long-lasting implications on the infant and child’s mental health in the future.
- Men can also suffer from postnatal depression.
Seeking help and support is imperative.
It is everyone’s responsibility to support the new mother’s at risk. We could be the ones to reach out to our friends, family, co-workers and employees.
The good news is that maternal mental health problems are treatable and recovery time is usually faster than that of other mental health problems.
The first step to seeking help is to acknowledge that there is a problem and to reach out to someone you trust; a partner, parent, friend or colleague. Be honest about how you feel and keep trying until you find someone who will listen to your concerns.
Book an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible. Again, be honest about your experiences as they can only work with the information you provide them with.
Seek help from specialised support groups and services. Some psychologists and counsellors are trained in this field. Your doctor should be able to point you in the right direction. You can also get direction from the Postnatal Mental Health Society of Botswana, Keitsholofetse Psychosocial Support for Pregnant Women based in Kanye and SensoBaby.
SensoBaby’s monthly Cuppa Love sessions are free coffee mornings run by a qualified professional. Contact them on 75305964 to find out more information. If you have been affected by this article or have more questions on this topic, you can email [email protected]
Check out some of these useful online resources: