Why is it important?
Stigma causes 7 in 10 women to downplay the severity of their mental health issues, even to those who are closest to them. We know that seeking support increases the chance of recovery and helps improve the relationship between a Mum and her baby. By raising awareness, we hope to encourage conversations about mental health to take place.
This year the pandemic has placed further pressures on maternal mental health while at the same time reducing opportunities for formal and informal support. You can read more in this report from the Maternal Mental Health Alliance.
What is a maternal mental health issue?
Perinatal Depression. Lots of people are aware of postnatal depression but may not know that it can start in pregnancy. Mothers may experience low mood, numbness and feelings of indifference or hostility towards their baby.
Perinatal Anxiety. Anxiety could be experienced alongside depression or on its own. Symptoms include feeling dizzy, a churning stomach and restlessness.
Perinatal OCD. This is a type of anxiety disorder involving obsessions and compulsions that are likely to relate to feelings about being a parent and your baby.
Postpartum Psychosis. This is a rare but serious mental health condition that needs urgent treatment. Symptoms usually start suddenly, and Mums often experience delusions and hallucinations.
Postpartum PTSD. Trauma before, during or after birth could result in flashbacks and intrusive thoughts.
For more information, including a full list of signs and symptoms see the MIND website.
There are different treatment options for each of these conditions, so a correct diagnosis is key to recovery.
“There are no rules about how stressed you must be before talking to your midwife or GP about how you feel. You can talk to a healthcare professional at any time if you have any concerns during your pregnancy. The sooner you ask for help, the sooner you can get the right support, if you need it.”- Tommys.org
Journeys to recovery
The theme of this year’s Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week is ‘Journeys to Recovery’. The Maternal Mental Health Alliance recognise that each person’s journey is individual and we want to raise awareness of different lived experiences.
We would like to share Kirsty’s story. As well as a difficult pregnancy, Kristy felt pressure both to breastfeed and to produce 'the perfect family'. Thanks to the support from her husband and homebirth midwives, Kristy sought the help she needed for her mental health.
“People tell you to enjoy the time before the baby comes, but instead of ‘blooming’ I was constantly sick.”
You can read Kirsty’s full story here.
Reaching Out for Support
Like Kirsty, many women access mental health support by talking to their midwife during pregnancy or after birth. GPs or Health Visitors can also offer help or refer Mums for more support from NHS services.
These specialist support services include:
The Perinatal Mental Health Team
Hospital Mother and Baby Units
"Getting the right support at the right time is so important. If you reach out and don't get heard the first time, keep trying." (MIND)
There are many voluntary groups and organisations that offer support to Mums with mental health issues. More details can be found at the bottom of this article.
How has COVID affected maternal mental health?
The Maternal Mental Health Alliance have conducted a rapid evidence review of the affect COVID has had. Their findings show that the pandemic has affected women more than men and pointed to women and families experiencing socioeconomic deprivation, and women and families of colour, being the most affected.
Less access to formal and informal support systems has made it difficult to seek help for some people. You can read the report here
MIND has some excellent ideas for self-care that may help parents who are feeling low. Reaching out to talk to other new parents, either face to face or online and sharing anxieties or worries can be re-assuring.
Looking after yourself, including relaxation, sleep and gentle exercise could help.