A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to receive a call being asked to chat on the BBC Radio and News about a new report published by Dr Louise Howard of King’s College London. I instantly agreed. I am always keen to talk about maternal mental health issues in the media because when I was struggling, hearing that I wasn't abnormal was a key step in my recovery.
When I had my son I felt fine for a few weeks, but then I suddenly really started to struggle. It started with chronic insomnia for me (which in hindsight I now think was due to PTSD), which quickly turned into anxiety, and then lead to depression as I beat myself up for not being able to cope, and not having the bond that everyone speaks of.
I asked for help quite quickly as the change was very marked, but it did take a long time to find the right therapy to help me. Not wanting to go on medication didn’t help me – I would encourage any mums reading this to try medication if they are struggling as it does seem to be the quickest fix! But obviously you have to (like me) do what is right for you.
But this report wasn't about post-natal depression and other maternal mental health issues after baby was born. It was about pre-natal mental health issues. The study found that a shocking 1 in 4 women struggle pre-natally. This really surprised me.
In hindsight I did struggle pre-natally. I realised this a while ago. But I totally didn’t notice whilst I was pregnant as mental health wasn’t on my radar at all. And as I was pregnant, I was expecting to feel different anyway.
But it got me thinking. If I (or those around me) had realised how much I was struggling during pregnancy, perhaps my struggles after birth would have been less severe. Either because they might have been identified earlier, or perhaps even dealt with before they arose?
It's hard enough getting mums to talk about their mental health after baby arrives (although thankfully it’s getting easier!). But to get them to talk whilst pregnant – when they are yet to really get onto the "motherhood" sphere be it with professionals or just social media – is a really big challenge.
Dr Louise Howard talked in the interview about how it’s important to look after a pregnancy woman’s physical and emotional wellbeing, and that there are two simple screening questions on low mood and lack of interested that health professionals can ask during a check up to help identify women struggling. Of course there is always a risk that a mum-to-be will not answer truthfully as they are scared of the repercussions, but it at least gives an opportunity, and as we work to reduce the misconception about repercussions, hopefully this will reduce.
She also mentioned that for some women, the mental health issues may be pre-existing, but that during pregnancy this may be the first opportunity for the mum-to-be to speak with a health professional and start to realise that what they’ve been experiencing isn’t normal. But for others, pregnancy can trigger for a variety of reasons. She mentioned unplanned pregnancy, abuse, or lack of social support. The latter she mentioned was particularly important during pregnancy and one of the reasons I am trying to get MummyLinks out to all mums-to-be! We used to bring up babies with great villages – of family and friends – around us, but now we can find ourselves alone.
Dr Howard mentioned that the implications if not picked up include the issue becoming chronic which can interfere with enjoyment and interaction when the baby arrives, so early identification and treatment is really important.
That’s what I’m so glad to be a part of IFWIP as a Board Advisor. We need to let mums-to-be and those around them know about maternal mental health issues, so they can identify it as early on as possible, and find the most relevant help.
There are some great ladies (and men!) working their socks of out there to help mums-to-be identify what they are experiencing, and whether they need help.
I will introduce these great people in time, but for now, do take a look at the following services and support them wherever you can. Be it by making mums in your area aware, reviewing the service for them, or helping financially or with your time.
MummyLinks is a free app helping mums beat loneliness through local playdates.
Being a mum is tough, so building a strong, local community is key.
Create or join playdates with local mums, even at short notice. Sign up for free today!
We take safety very seriously. MummyLinks is invite only. You can find out more here.