Mental health problems can develop at any time during and after pregnancy – the ‘perinatal period’. While some statistics show you may be more susceptible to a condition if you have suffered from mental health problems before, it can happen to anyone.
The warning signs can be tricky to spot and the condition can come as a shock. New mothers may feel ashamed, believing having a baby should be a happy period. Experiencing feelings of depression or anxiety can be a terrifying and confusing prospect. Yet, around 1 in 5 women experience some sort of mental health issue during the perinatal period. So, if you have been affected, you are not alone.
Recognising the symptoms
Pre-natal and post-natal depression may be familiar concepts. However, the perinatal period can trigger a range of other mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, psychosis, PTSD, eating disorders, OCD and more. Symptoms, or warning signs, vary from person to person, which means they can be difficult to recognise.
Begin by identifying what is abnormal for you or your partner, as behavioural and personality changes are exceptionally common factors in any mental health condition. Some of these indicators include, low motivation, little pleasure in things, irritability, low mood, increased sense of dread, loss of appetite, consistent harmful thoughts and withdrawing from loved ones, to name a few.
Physical symptoms can manifest in a lack of appetite, insomnia, tiredness and even stomach problems. These effects can take a heavy toll on your everyday life, affecting your ability to function properly.
Seek out the help and advice of a GP who can safely diagnose and offer treatments for your problem.
Be kind to yourself
Pregnancy, birth and parenting a newborn are hefty lifestyle changes that require a lot of adjustment and can be quite stressful. Pregnancy itself involves a lot of hormonal and physical changes, not to mention the physically exhausting act of labour. So, is it any wonder your mental state would take a turn?
Feeling emotional during and after pregnancy can be normal. Nevertheless, if a low mood is persistent there may be a deeper issue at play.
Finding yourself facing a mental health problem can feel embarrassing, terrifying and confusing. Be gentle with yourself: there is nothing to be ashamed of, fear is understandable and these feelings are a product of an illness and not your true self. If you feel able to confide in your partner, family, friends or even a professional, do so. Often admitting you are feeling a certain way can be very liberating and an effective catalyst for recovery.
In many instances, there is no specific cause for developing perinatal mental health problems. Pre-existing mental health conditions, a traumatic birth, PTSD, stress, environmental or biological factors can all be possible causes. However, it is often very difficult to pinpoint the exact trigger. It is helpful to remember, however, that the symptoms in many cases are often only short term and respond well to treatment, which vary and work differently from person to person. These can be talk-based therapies, psychotherapy and in some cases medication.
There are charities that offer additional advice and further support, from information to support groups – where others who have had similar experiences can make you feel less alienated. Charities include the Birth Trauma Association, SANDS , The Fatherhood Institute and Mind. Additionally, you may find some at-home practices can alleviate symptoms – mindfulness, meditation, yoga, breathing exercises and talking to trusted loved ones can all prove effective. Find what is right for you to help yourself along the road to recovery.
Starting a new family or extending it with a newborn is both an exciting and stressful time for couples. There are a great number of changes and pressures. If one party is also suffering from mental health problems it can naturally put a strain on the relationship affecting intimacy, day to day life and childcare. These problems are normal and can be effectively addressed. If you are looking after a partner who is suffering, ensure you are taking time out for yourself to address your wellbeing and reboot.
In some cases, especially where there has been a traumatic birth, complications or a stillbirth, the relationship is put under serious strain. The effects of trauma, grief, stresses of parenthood and the presence of severe mental health problems can be very damaging for both parties. Consider counselling to try and alleviate, navigate and heal the situation. Further, the charity Relate, specialise in relationship advice and support. If sadly a marriage comes to an end, a specialist family law firm can understand the effects of mental health problems and can approach the proceedings effectively, appropriately and empathetically.
About the Author
Henry Brookman is a divorce solicitor and senior partner at Brookman, a highly experienced family law firm, with expertise in a full range of family legal matters including divorce in the UK and internationally, complex financial issues, property settlements and children’s matters. Brookman is ranked by the Legal 500 and has been awarded the Law Society’s quality mark, Lexcel. For more information visit www.brookman.co.uk.