I decided to touch on this topic as it is widely under reported and rarely spoken about, most public media I have seen regarding perinatal disorders are related to accounts of violence. As someone who has an extensive history of mental illness and being pregnant currently I have realised how little is known about this subject.
Perinatal mental health looks at a woman’s mental state from the time of pregnancy until around one year post-partum. Unfortunately, on occasion, pregnancy may exacerbate any pre-existing mental illness or may even induce, cause, or be a catalyst to developing a mental disorder. A lot of women feel they are pressured into portraying themselves as this “blissfully happy” woman who has just birthed her entire lives meaning. Unfortunately due to this a lot of perinatal mental disorders will often go underreported due to these pressures. With less women seeking help for their mental state during this period the 5th most common cause of death during pregnancy or immediately after the birth is maternal suicide.
Anxiety is a completely normal emotional response to most human events, pregnancy included. A lot of mothers feel an unnecessary pressure from their family, friends, partners, and the media to be perfectly happy and to be doing everything by the book! This may increase an already diagnosed anxiety disorder or could potentially induce an anxiety disorder in others. Although anxiety is normal in cases where a disorder may be suspected there may be a constant feeling of doom or fear in regards to the baby, pregnancy, or the birth. In some extreme cases the mother could develop tokophobia; an extreme fear of childbirth. For further information on developing an anxiety disorder in pregnancy, alongside some handy tips to deal with it, click Here.
Peri and post natal depression.
Between 15-20% of women will develop depression during or soon after the birth of their child, often times this comes alongside anxiety. Unlike other depressive disorders there will be symptoms related to the child. These symptoms may manifest as feeling like a bad mother, a failure, or not being able to live up to this perfect image of a mother. As mentioned previously maternal suicide is the 5th most common cause of death in mothers. One Canadian study found that up to one third of new mums experience depression and suicidal ideation and up to half of new mums experience these thoughts and includes their children – or intrusive thoughts of hurting their children. These thoughts then gather a lot of guilt and ultimately worsens the depression due to having these horrific thoughts. Despite depression being one of the most common mental illnesses world wide, even within perinatal mental health, people are so afraid to admit it due to fear of judgment from others.
Puerperal psychosis only impacts 0.1 – 0.2% of new mothers, generally developing within the first few months of giving birth. Despite being a rare disorder it is generally considered to be high risk in regards to new mothers. When a mother is suspected of suffering from puerperal psychosis she may experience paranoia, delusional beliefs, and act on intrusive thoughts. The majority of women who go on to commit acts of infanticide are thought to experience severe puerperal psychosis. Through my professional career I have witnessed delusional beliefs relating to religion where the mother feels the child is either possessed by demons and death will be their only freedom to events where the mother has delusions regarding the weather and believes her child is freezing to death, despite evidence pointing at the baby becoming too warm. Puerperal psychosis is so underreported but I feel this is due to the most well known cases being women who have murdered their babies, although again this is through illness, which I’ll touch on in my post on forensic mental health.
For more information on puerperal psychosis you can visit the Mind website
Remember that regardless of what the mental disorder is it is vital for a mothers mental wellness to talk openly about any concerns. People are good natured with their suggestions of advice although this may inadvertently worsen episodes of depression or anxiety through making the mum feel guilty or like a failure. As a new mum it can be incredibly overwhelming and even though you may be surrounded by friends and family you may feel like you are in this yourself. These feelings are normal and should not be swept under the carpet or ignored.