According to recent findings from the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCOP), over 10% of women suffer from a mental illness during pregnancy and further research from The World Health Organisation, suggests this number only increases during the postnatal period.
Since the wellbeing of any mother greatly impacts her child, the increase in these statistics is certainly concerning. However despite the impact this may have, very little is still known around the issue of mental health and as a genre, maternal wellbeing can often be overlooked or misdiagnosed.
It seems readily acceptable these days that the majority of postnatal women will experience a minor form of mood swings or 'baby blues' in the days following the birth. However, how can we differentiate between mild mood swings and more serious physiological afflictions, and what can be done to improve this?
Who, What and Why?
Despite records of 'emotional difficulties' for postnatal women being dated back as far as 700 BC (Hippocrates), it wasn't until the late 1850's that medical professionals recognised postnatal depression as a disorder. During the 19th century most women would hide their symptoms and those who did speak out were often labelled as 'neurotic', being subjected to a variety of unusual and often traumatic treatments.
Although the stigma surrounding all mental health has certainly taken a turn in the right direction, the area of maternal mental health is still in the early stages of research. For example, postnatal depression, being the first disorder to be recognised by medical professionals, is still often used as a mis-diagnoses for other postpartum ailments. Including; Postpartum Phychosis, Postpartum Anxiety and Postnatal Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
A recent study (Miller, Hoxha, Wisner, & Gossett, 2015a, 2015b) found that after screening 461 women at 2 weeks postpartum, 11.2% screened positive for OCD. However a further 37.5% reported experiencing subclinical obsessions or compulsions. Highlighting the fact that although a medical exam may not expose the symptoms, many women are still experiencing a minor form of OCD in the postnatal period.
Declarations from Celebrities over the recent years, regarding their own struggles, has certainly helped to expose the issue of Maternal mental health and paves the way for more sufferers to speak openly about their struggles. But what is currently being done to help mothers dealing with mental health issues?
Options and Outcomes
Studies have shown that with appropriate treatment and support, most sufferers can make a full recovery, although this can take time.
In 2015 The NHS released a document, 'Five Year Forward View for Mental Health' and since then has committed itself to fulfilling these ambitions. Hoping that by 2020/21 there will be increased access to specialist perinatal health support in all area's of England. This scheme will allow at least 30,000 women each year to receive evidence-based treatment when they need it. However, despite these good intensions, currently the waiting time for such treatment on the NHS can still span many months.
So what other options are there for mothers out there? Whilst in today's society there seems to be numerous online forums and website support systems for those struggling with mental health, often the demanding time commitments that come with parenting, render this option scarcely achievable. Not to mention the plethora of mis-informed, outdated & unqualified opinions that litter the Web. This then leaves the option of medicinal treatment as the next obvious choice.
Undoubtably, there have been many accounts of success, where taking medicine has helped to combat anxiety and stress. However this option may not be the ideal solution for the postnatal women. Along with the potential side affects ( including, insomnia, nausea, & dizziness), the affects of anti- depressants on breastmilk is still undergoing research. A report released by the National Institutes of Health in 2008 states that 'the question still remains whether the antidepressants or the untreated depression itself has more negative effects on the infant'. Although the general consensus is that risks to the infant is low-very low, perhaps for mothers already struggling with postpartum stress, the weight of this decision will only increase levels of concern?
What about Dad?
And it seems it's not just women who are speaking out about their struggles coping during the postnatal period. Approximately 1 in 28 fathers are also likely to suffer with a form of depression in the first year after birth. With recent research released by ITV finding that although the majority still report no symptoms of PND, a further 1 in 3 dads are concerned about their mental health in some regard.
So what is it that's causing these levels of stress during a time that for most people is a positive landmark in there lives?
A common misconception is that hormones are chiefly to blame for the onset of PND. However, it is believed that issues such as lack of sleep, changes in routine, increased responsibilities, as well as additional demands on the couples relationship can also be triggers. Living with a partner suffering from depression can also be a contributing factor.
Fit or Fad?
In 2010 the Daily Telegraph released an article stating that 'specialist routines could help new mothers to decrease the chances of depression by 50%'.
Professor Mary Galea, of the University's Physiotherapy Department and senior author of the study, said: 'By improving new mothers' wellbeing, this physiotherapy-based program has been shown to have a real impact on reducing the risk of PND.' However it was also acknowledged that more reasearch was needed to identify whether these effects could last for longer that the first three months.
Me, Myself and Mind
As a mother who has previously dealt with postnatal OCD, I am aware first hand of the challenges facing women who are balancing motherhood with psychological stress.
It is encouraging to know that with appropriate treatment the majority of suffers make a full recovery. Clearly the length of time it can take to correctly diagnose the issue, followed by the waiting time for the treatment is cause for concern. However, as more suffers come forward, the issue of mental stability is thrust into the spotlight, hopefully encouraging newer research and more detailed analyses to help combat anxiety for good.