GPs and other health workers in the Midlands are being urged to look behind the smile and ask about mental health when meeting women who are pregnant or who have recently given birth. As part of Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week NHS England (Midlands) has launched a series of videos to raise awareness of mental health issues.
Up to 20 per cent of women develop perinatal mental health issues during pregnancy or in the first year after birth. But many pregnant women and new mums do not seek help as they believe there is a stigma attached, especially at a time when they are expected to be thrilled with the prospect of a new baby.
Samira Philip* fell pregnant almost immediately after their wedding, while her husband Steve- an ambitious professional in the City, got terribly busy with work. Self-sufficient Samira, coped fine till the baby was born. With parents in Kerala, India, waiting for their visa to come through, she could not deal with the new baby, absentee husband and no support from anyone other than occasionally visiting friends. She started spiralling into depression, more and more as the baby cried a lot due to acid reflux, which left her irritated, stressed and sleep deprived.
She soon could barely lift her head from the bed, cried endlessly, though she knew she was responsible for the baby's well-being. “I did not know what to do,” she told Asian Voice. “One morning I told my husband I resented the baby, I hated myself and I could not bear his sight. I think till then my husband who was also new to everything we were going through, and at that time the only bread winner (as I was on maternity) in the family, thought my mood swings were more common than not. But my resentment towards our own baby, was what got the alarm bells ringing. He took me to a doctor immediately, who confirmed that I was suffering from postpartum depression (PPD).”
First generation of immigrants living in this country, often do not have the required support, due to lack of family members living in the UK. Moreover there are rituals and practices, particular to the Asian community, that often alienates pregnant women and new mothers from the rest of the society- adding to the issues already exisiting (see our story 'Sharing is Caring', P-6, AV 27 April 2019, https://www.asian-voice.com/Lifestyle/Food/Health-Diet/Sharing-is-Caring)
Videos to share stories of perinatal mental illness
The West Midlands Perinatal Mental Health Clinical Network team at NHS England (Midlands) has launched a series of videos telling personal stories of women who have developed perinatal mental illness and how they have worked with healthcare professionals to get better. The films cover maternal OCD; antenatal anxiety; postpartum psychosis; postnatal depression and maternal bonding difficulties. And are for GPs, midwives, health visitors and other healthcare professionals to share with women who are pregnant or who have recently given birth to show that it is ok to address these feelings.
One of the women who features in the video, is a peer support worker and campaigner for postpartum psychosis and maternal mental health and explains why she wanted to share her story, “I want women to know that mental health during and after childbirth is really important and that there is support out there for them. These services really will make a difference to a mum’s experience of the pregnancy, childbirth and beyond.”
Another mum who tells her story on film, who following the birth of her first child suffered postnatal depression explained, “My experience was how hopeless life can feel. I thought it would be the happiest year of my life when my baby was born but it really wasn’t. I would get up and go out to lots of baby classes and put on a smile and pretend everything was okay but inside I was literally falling apart.
“With the extra support in place things did start to look up, it was a slow journey. If I hadn’t had support from the Perinatal Mental Health team that I needed I would never have seen the light.”
Nicola McDermott, Perinatal Mental Health Champion and GP from Worcestershire is encouraging healthcare professionals to watch the films, “I deliver teaching sessions with the aim of improving GPs knowledge and understanding of perinatal mental illness."
Dr Lucy Blunt, GP Champion for Perinatal Mental Health in Coventry and Warwickshire added, “Mental illness is the most common complication encountered by women during the perinatal period, yet it is often over looked or not given the attention that it deserves due to the associated stigma and barriers in communication.
“Women need to feel confident that not only is their GP approachable but also competent in recognising, assessing and appropriately managing all different types of perinatal mental illness.
“Improved training and education will enable GPs to offer help and support at the earliest opportunity resulting in the best possible outcomes for these women and their families at this vital period of change in their lives.”
Mums who are experiencing these feelings should speak to their local GP or health visitor for more advice and information or visit: www.nhs.uk to find local services.