Perinatal mental health (PMH) has a physical and lasting effects on women, their babies and those around them. The interplay of factors related to PMH and impacts are explored throughout this essay.
Franks, Crozier & Penhale (2016) identify six over-arching themes identified by women and health professionals that affect the mental health of pregnant women.
Potential Challenges for Mums
The challenges of Mums living with mental health can be myriad and varied. These include:
- Sadness, emptiness, depression
- Questioning of important people, moments, events
- Pulling aware from friends, family, surroundings, isolating
- Increasing anxiety and stress around everyday, normal occurences
- Increased pressure on self
- Decreased motivation within life
When experiencing continued stress/anxiety or sadness, it begins to impact on the hormones and chemicals, this starts to make it harder to feel better and starts to have a physical impact on your body. Stress and anxiety create tension within the body which in turn activates the fight or flight response, increasing adrenaline. This is meant to be a temporary reaction to a stressful event, not a long term coping mechanism. Long-term it is going to create exhaustion, anger, wtihdrawn attitude, confusion, essentially an exacerbation of their current symptoms.
Potential Challenges for Babies
Perinatal mental health (during pregnancy or postpartum) conditions such as depression, stress and PTSD are known to have a biological and hormonal effect on unborn babies, altering HPA hormones, predisposing babies to metabolic, cardiovascular and mental disorders into adulthood. These higher levels of HPA hormones can restrict utero-placental function increasing the chance of a low birth weight (LBW) baby, whether small for gestational age (SGA) or intrauterine growth restricted (IUGR), and initiate preterm labour or spontaneous abortion. Previous childhood trauma is associated with questions regarding parenting and bonding with babies, impacting confidence.
Potential Challenges for Family
Family can include partners, other children, grandparents, aunts, uncles, any person that is important and considered a part of the family. Challenges for them can also be significant, including displacment, not understanding, feeling helpless when it comes to helping those they feel require their help. For many mental health is not something that they expect or prepare for when it comes to a pregnancy or postpartum so it may not be seen or considered until it has become a significant issue and seeped into many aspects of their life. Families may feel they need to pic up the slack as far as the house, chores, other children, they may feel responsible for getting their significant woman to see help for their mental health.
Potential Challenges for Communities
Communities will also face challenges when women are experiencing mental health concerns in pregnancy or postpartum. Stigma may create issues with women fitting in to their community. Women within the community who have walked this path may feel triggered having another woman expereincing it, if they have had traumatic self/family mental health histories, they are likely going to feel uncomofrtable discussing these subjects. They could potentially be additionally helpful, having been through this before. They may feel their journey coming back and feel uncomfortable with those feelings and recognition again. Other families who have not experienced mental health may want to be supportive and helpful, but unsure how.
For any woman and those around her, it is important to have tools they can use to improve their mental health. Sometimes tools, techniques, talking is not enough. Sometimes medication is required especially for women with ongoing mental health conditions.
Mental Health is not something to be afraid of, it is not something to be ashamed of, it is something we are learning more and more about, it is something we are understanding more about and the more we learn, understand, the more women are diagnosed wtih mental health conditions.
I will be sharing my journey with Postnatal Depression soon, so stay tuned, in the meantime, if you want some useful tools, tips and techniques for improving their mindset through pregnancy, check out Mindful Birthing, HypnoBirthing or organise a personal consult.