By Rhonda Norwood, PhD, LCSW
If you haven’t heard, May is Maternal Mental Health Month. If you think designating a month for maternal mental health is oddly specific, then this designation was made just for you! Seriously, many people do wonder, is maternal mental health really much different than just regular mental health?
Pregnancy affects women physically, hormonally, emotionally, socially, financially and in countless other ways. For many women, these changes cause the “blues,” depression, anxiety or a severe mental illness that affects their well-being. Many of these problems are caused by the pregnancy or childbirth, while others are pre-existing issues that were worsened in the perinatal period. These problems can then result in significant medical issues for the mother and the infant, and they tend to affect the mother’s relationship with her baby and others.
We use this month to focus on maternal mental health because many women still do not know or believe that what they are experiencing is not so unusual; because sometimes it is hard to know when the emotional ups-and-downs of pregnancy and motherhood should be concerning; and because, even if you know there is a problem, it is sometimes hard to know what to do about it.
So, if you or someone you know is pregnant or has recently had a child, here is what you should know:
Who is at risk of a maternal mental health complication?
- All women who are pregnant or who have recently had a baby.
Who is at greater risk?
- Women who have previously experienced depression, anxiety, a perinatal mood disorder, or other mental health issues, or those who have a family history of any of these disorders
- Women who have experienced significant life stressors, such as grief/loss, poor health, financial or relationship stress, etc.
- Women whose babies have health complications or struggle with breastfeeding
- Women with inadequate support
What are (some of) the symptoms of a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder?
- Depressed mood or severe mood swings, crying excessively, withdrawing from others
- Difficulty bonding with your baby
- Loss of appetite or eating much more than usual, overwhelming fatigue, inability to sleep or sleeping too much, loss of interest in typical activities you enjoy
- Intense irritability, anger, severe anxiety, excessive worry, or panic attacks
- Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt or feeling inadequate as a mother
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
What to do if you or a loved one is experiencing these symptoms?
- Call your physician or mental health practitioner right away. There are many medication and therapy options that can help you to feel better.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK
- http://www.postpartum.net or 1-800-944-4773(4PPD)
Let’s all join together to raise awareness of the unique challenges that women experience when pregnant and as new mothers, and encourage women to prioritize their own mental health. With help, you can get better.