Sarah’s son was three months old when she finally hit a wall: “It didn’t seem there was any way out,” she says. Feeling constantly stressed, exhausted and riddled with anxiety, Sarah felt she just wasn’t cut out to be a mum: “There was no joy. I kept thinking this is the one time in my life when I’m supposed to be happy, but I just felt numb. It was like I was just going through the motions, inside there was this numbness and constant fear. Fear of what I might do, fear of what I was feeling. Every time I looked at my baby I felt like a failure. In the end, I just figured I should never have had a child.” Hers is an all-too common story.
Half of new mothers are concerned about their mental health and many are suffering in silence, according to new research released today by the National Childbirth Trust (NCT). Almost one in five callers to the charity’s helpline had a mental health issue to discuss, it was revealed, while more than a third of those had not sought professional help.
For Sarah it was only when she finally opened up to her GP that things started to change. Combining talking therapy with anti-depressants, Sarah managed to gain the clarity she needed to address her Postnatal Depression (PND). “At first my family kept saying it was just the ‘baby blues’, that it was normal and that I’d get through it. So when it didn’t fade I figured it indicated something was wrong inside me, I mean having a baby is supposed to the most joyful thing that can happen to a person, isn’t it?” Since when, she’s developed ways to cope with her anxiety, while tackling the underlying problems that were causing her depression.
I figured something was wrong inside me – isn’t having a baby supposed to the most joyful thing that can happen to a person?
As with many mothers, Sarah’s feelings started when she was pregnant. In a new book Why Perinatal Depression Matters, clinical psychologist Mia Scotland suggests that far from being a hormonal imbalance or the ‘baby blues’, perinatal depression – often a precursor to postnatal depression – is primarily caused by environmental factors such as lack of support, high expectations, overwhelming responsibility, isolation and tiredness. With an estimated one in 10 women suffering from perinatal depression, Scotland suggests we need to be more open about feelings that can overshadow a period that women are repeatedly told should be the happiest in their lives.
Launching today, NCT’s #BeyondBabyBlues campaign aims to encourage people to talk more openly about maternal mental health, to avoid the mistake of dismissing potentially serious mental health issues. “Some women are affected by the ‘baby blues’ which can leave mums feeling emotional, irritable and depressed within the first few days or weeks after giving birth, thought to be triggered by hormonal, psychological and social changes associated with childbirth” a spokesperson said. “But if symptoms persist or worsen, begin at a later stage, or even in pregnancy, it can be something more serious such as antenatal depression, postnatal depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.”
There isn’t enough support for new mothers – investment is needed to provide services that could prevent devastating problems down the line
With this new research finding as many as 50 per cent of mothers still worried about feeling low or depressed when their babies were eight months old, and almost three quarters of fathers were concerned about their partner’s mental health, it is vital that the taboo surrounding PND is broken.
Dr Sarah McMullen, Head of Research, NCT, added: “We know many women’s mental health can be affected during pregnancy or in the early weeks and months of motherhood and a lot find it incredibly hard to talk about how they’re feeling and also worry about not being a good enough mum. It’s really important they know they’re not alone and feel supported at this crucial time in their lives.
“We are very concerned that over a third of mothers who called our helpline about their mental health are suffering in silence and have not spoken to a health professional about it. There currently isn’t enough support for new mothers and much more investment is needed to provide support services and train enough GPs, midwives and health visitors to recognise vulnerable new mums and give them the help they need by offering treatment options and referral if necessary. Early intervention could prevent devastating problems later down the line.”
For more information about the campaign visit nct.org.uk/beyond-baby-blues