It has been reported today that suicide is now the main cause of death in new mothers and pregnant women.
Whilst significant progress has been made in physical health for mothers during pregnancy and birth over recent years, dramatically reducing the number of fatalities surrounding maternity care, the same cannot be said for mental health. Campaigners are highlighting the lack of investment in post-natal psychological support, despite a growing number of women reporting severe anxiety and depression following the birth of their child. As many as one in ten mothers suffer from post-natal depression, with symptoms usually developing within the first six weeks but not becoming apparent until six months as they are dismissed as "baby blues". Women of all ages and ethnic groups can be affected but teenagers are more likely to suffer and older mothers are less likely to seek help, fearing being seen as a failure and unable to cope. Post-natal depression and anxiety are easier to manage if identified earlier, but critics argue that the current techniques for identifying symptoms are ineffective and often not followed up because of lack of resources.
What are the symptoms?
Many women can feel empty and unable to come to terms with their new responsibilities as a parent, reporting an inability to sleep, irritability, tearfulness, mood swings, lack of a connection with their child amongst other symptoms, and these usually subside over a few weeks as new routines are established, but if such signs are intensifying rather than subsiding and if ideas of self-harm or anger towards the child start to emerge, then immediate help needs to be sought. As with other forms of depression, a combination of medication and talking therapy has been found to be most effective in treating the condition, but medical advice is key to assessing the right intervention for any individual.
As long as it is recognised and treated post-natal depression is a temporary condition. If you or someone you know is suffering, see your GP sooner rather than later.
A screening questionnaire is the current method for identifying sufferers, but many women don't come forward or don't answer the questions honestly because of an irrational fear that their child may be taken away from them. Therefore, it essential that a new mother's support network of friends and family, as well as health visitors, are also on the lookout for tell-tale signs of struggle, and that sufferers are encouraged to take action to prevent them entering a downward spiral which could have a tragic outcome.
The two useful questions to ask are:
- During the past month, do you often feel down, depressed or hopeless?
- During the past month, do you find little or no pleasure in doing things that would normally make you feel
If the answer to either or both of these questions is YES, then your GP will discuss what options may be available to you. If counselling could help and you cannot get an appointment quickly, call CCC for an appointment. Those on low incomes can receive heavily subsidised help and appointments can usually be arranged within a week. Contact your nearest reception:
Cambridge 01223 233047 Peterborough 01733 553166 St Ives 01480 405859
If you have a history of depression of any kind, you should speak to your doctor if you are considering trying for a baby or find you are pregnant. They may offer some advise to help to reduce the severity of symptoms:
- Get as much rest as possible
- Take regular gentle exercise
- Don't let your blood sugar levels drop, so eat regularly and healthily, sticking to a balanced diet
- Avoid alocohol, drugs and stimulants as they will make you feel worse not better
- Formulate solutions to practical problems such as finances or other health issues to reduce stress
- Ensure you have a good support network of friends and family who are willing to listen and offer
practical help before and after the birth
- Speak to a professional who can offer coping strategies and help to identify when things are starting to
get out of control