We’ve long been given the impression that pregnancy and parenthood is the happiest time of any person’s life. There might be sleepless nights, there might be dirty nappies, the might be colicky coughs (there will be all of these), but mostly, it’s bliss, right? We’ve been blessed with a tiny human, often so longed for, we should be happy and #grateful, yes?
Too often expectations and reality don’t match up. Parenthood brings with it a whole host of emotions – we feel every emotion on the spectrum and sometimes we feel every single one within a 24 hour period – the highs, the lows and everything in between. There will be joy, and lots of it, but it doesn’t come without difficulty. For some the lows can sometimes start to outweigh the highs.
According to the Maternal Mental Health Alliance, mental health issues affect more than one in 10 people during pregnancy or in the year after giving birth. Untreated, these illnesses can have a devastating impact. Whether PTSD, postnatal depression or anxiety, psychosis, antenatal anxiety or OCD, mental health problems related to antenatal or postnatal issues are varied and every person experiences them differently. But one thing unites every person who has known maternal mental health issues – you’re not alone.
How do I know if I need help?
We all have grey days where things get on top of us, where everything feels too much and we’d quite like to change our names and move to the Maldives. Knowing when those days are becoming a real issue is key.
None of us are superhuman and there is no shame in reaching out if things are all getting a bit too much. As a general rule, if your mood has been low for two weeks or more, it might be time to speak to someone.
You don’t need to wait until you feel you’re in crisis to get support: feeling more irritable than usual, struggling to sleep, loss of appetite, feeling low or anxious, struggling to concentrate or thinking negative things about yourself are all some of the most frequently experienced symptoms of poor mental wellbeing. If you’re noticing any of these things in yourself, or even if there’s just a niggling voice in the back of your head telling you something isn’t quite right, asking for help can be a game changer.
Who can I reach out to?
How can I ask for help?
Knowing exactly how to ask for help can be a challenge in itself, especially if you’re feeling out of sorts. These conversation starters can be a great place to begin:
- When you don’t know what you need:
- “I’m depressed/anxious/scared/. I don’t know what I need, but I don’t want to be alone right now”
- When you don’t have close people nearby:
- “I know we haven’t spoken for a while but you are someone I trust and I am having a hard time right now. Are you able to talk?”
- When you are struggling but you aren’t ready to talk:
- I am finding things really hard right but I’m not ready to talk about it. Can you help me distract myself?
- When your usual methods of managing your mental health aren’t working:
- “I’m struggling with my mental health and I’ve tried my go-to methods to help myself. Could you help me come up with another plan?”
- When you’re craving connection:
- I’ve been feeling down recently. Can you check in with me at [time], to make sure I’m doing OK?
- When you’re struggling with “the basics”:
- I’m finding it hard to take care of myself and/or my baby/my family right now. Could you help with [task]?
What help is available?
Talking therapies: Talking therapies are used to help with anxiety, depression, phobias, addiction and other serious mental health conditions such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. There are a few different types of talking therapy. Your doctor will be able to help you figure out which might be best for you.
Medication: Medication can be prescribed to treat different mental health difficulties. You might have heard of Citalopram or Sertraline, but there are tonnes more available. According to Mind, whether or not you are offered medication for your mental health is likely to depend on what problems you are diagnosed with, what your symptoms are and how severely your mental health problem affects you. Again, speak to your doctor if you think you might need medication to manage any problems you’re experiencing.
Mindfulness: It’s become a bit of a buzzword in the wellness space over the last few years, but for good reason. Mindfulness isn’t a magic wand but trying to be present and not let your mind run away with you is a great technique for looking after yourself. Start by focusing on your breath. Concentrating on breathing in and out and trying to quiet the chatter in your mind for even a minute can help you slow down. Headspace is a great place to begin if you want to learn more about Mindfulness.
Art therapy: Creativity has been proven to have a positive impact on your mental health too. Carving just a few minutes for yourself to draw, paint or doodle can be enough to bring you back to yourself. Grab a pencil and paper when your little one is sleeping and draw the first thing that comes to your mind – even if you’re a “terrible” artist. Or if you have more time – find a class near you. Creativity is healing.
Asking for help doesn’t make you less of a brilliant parent, nor does it make you weak or ungrateful for your baby. Quite the opposite. Looking after yourself and taking care of your mental wellbeing puts you in the best position to take care of your children. It’s a cliche for a reason – you can’t pour from an empty cup and taking care of number one has to be prioritised sometimes.
If you’re ever in crisis and feel like you might be a danger to yourself or others, you can speak to The Samaritans on 116 123, or you can go to A&E.
It is possible to recover from maternal mental health difficulties.
It is possible to go on and live a really healthy and happy life.
However dark it might feel right now, you will find the light again.
For further information, visit:
Maternal Mental Health Alliance