Maternal Mental Health: Breaking the Taboo and Seeking Help
Around 20% of women will encounter a mental health issue of some kind either during pregnancy or following childbirth. Although ‘postnatal depression’ is a widely recognised phenomenon, anxiety in the postnatal period is also very common. Experience of pregnancy loss, a traumatic experience of giving birth, or a baby with health problems can increase the likelihood of encountering emotional difficulties in the postnatal period.
Even when difficulties are not severe, many women find the emotional impact of adjusting to the major change which having a baby represents a real challenge. A challenge that can be made more complicated by the need to navigate changes in existing relationships, whether with a partner, other children in the family, parents, in-laws or extended family.
Women often suffer in silence: seeking help for mental health concerns can be daunting under any circumstances, but it can feel especially overwhelming when busy looking after a baby or young child or children. It can seem hard to make sense of whether therapy would be helpful or worth spending time and money on, during a period that is likely to be shaped by a baby’s needs.
Support from other mothers can be an important source of connection and perspective – a helpful reminder that caring for a baby is uniquely demanding and that you are not alone in feeling like you are on a rollercoaster at times! Equally, it can be distressing and isolating if you think that you are having a harder time or struggling more than other mums, or if you think that those around you are managing motherhood better than you are or not facing the same difficulties you are encountering.
Therapy can provide a helpful and supportive thinking space, to identify and make sense of the aspects of your life that are presenting challenges. If you are feeling anxious or depressed, recognising this and seeking help is part of taking your needs as a human being seriously – your needs haven’t gone away just because you’re a mum!
Having time and support to develop a plan, however simple, to help you address anxiety and low mood can be a relief in itself. The impact of disruption to sleep and the scale of the changes involved in having a baby, whether it is your first child or not, make it harder to cope as well as you might usually cope with periods of anxiety or feeling down.
If you have more serious concerns, such as the impact of traumatic birth experiences or are affected significantly by anxiety or low mood or other mental health symptoms, seeking help is very important – your GP or Health Visitor will be very used to hearing about such difficulties and keen to help you, so that you can feel supported and enjoy your life as a mum, despite the challenges that come with it.