Category Archives: MMHday blogs
Crosspost from World Maternal Mental Health day blog by Josee Grenier
In my experience through Postpartum Depression and Anxiety it felt like every fear and trauma I had ever experienced was fresh in my mind. It’s like PPD’s ugly hand had reached deep into my heart in the ‘trauma’ area and just started pulling at things and ‘stirring the pot’.
I remember some days just laying on the couch completely exhausted from the onslaught of painful thoughts and emotions. I felt like someone also pushed the ‘off’ switch on all my filters and coping skills. I had zero ability to sort through or process all the thoughts and emotions I was experiencing. I remember spending a lot of time trying to process every thought and feeling as though I could solve this problem through understanding my feelings. It was exhausting and often it would make my anxiety so much worse. It also felt like unless I could miraculously heal from every trauma I had ever experienced, I would never be OK.
I felt like I must be experiencing all of this emotional distress because I had done something wrong or had neglected to do something good. I felt broken and like there was no hope that I could ever ‘fix’ this. […]
Alcohol and other drugs (AOD) use among pregnant women is associated with poor health outcomes for mothers and children.
Research has found that South Africa has one of the highest prevalence rates for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) in the world. Alcohol, crack/cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine are the most abused substances in South Africa, with alcohol abuse being the most significant problem.
Maternal mental distress and AOD use in pregnancy often result in a cycle of dependency.
BUT, there are new the cross-cutting approaches that can maximize engagement and positive outcomes while mitigating potential harms.
Mothers who take alcohol and other substances during pregnancy often don’t attend antenatal clinic because they fear judgement by healthcare workers. If a mother does attend it’s important to keep her in the system by making a special effort to create a positive relationship with her, through empathic communication. You can encourage her to return to the clinic more frequently than other mothers, affirm the things she is doing well and help her to make informed choices.
Healthcare workers are better able to mitigate harm if the mother is retained in the system!
For more information see our Issue Brief on Alcohol and other drug use in pregnancy
This post is crossposted on the WMMHday campaign site by Liz Shane
In the summer of 2013, my life was going great. I’d married my high-school sweetheart two years earlier and we had just moved into to an amazing rental house with our dog. It seemed like the perfect time to expand our family and I soon became pregnant with our first child. While I was initially ecstatic about the pregnancy, several weeks later, I started experiencing some very troubling symptoms.
I had a history of episodic anxiety and depression, usually centered around major life transitions, but this was something far beyond anything I had experienced in the past. I remember sitting in my office one day when I started to feel completely and utterly terrified, even though nothing was objectively wrong. I felt like crying all the time, could not focus on my work, and there was nothing that anyone could say or do to alleviate my anxiety. […]
Source: Falling Over the Edge – WMMH Day
This post is crossposted by Kathy Schommer
I feel like I’m drowning.” It was 7:00 a.m. on a weekday morning and my husband had just left for work. I was already sobbing on the phone to my mother, 1,800 miles away in North Dakota.
My then seven-month-old twin girls were bouncing away in their ExerSaucers. “I feel like I am treading water and trying so hard to keep my head up, but I keep sinking further down,” I cried to my mom. ”I’m trying to come up for air, but I feel like I can’t catch my breath.” […]
Source: Coming Up for Air – WMMH Day
The PMHP identified a major obstacle to providing mental health care: the relevant mental health screening tool validated for our setting
The high prevalence of maternal depression in South Africa requires that maternal mental health screening, performed routinely and on-site, be logistically feasible and responsive to the local risk factors which may influence mental distress. To address this gap, we have developed a brief 5-question screening tool to identify symptoms of depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation.
The study was based at our Hanover Park site. Women attending the maternity service were screened, offered counselling if required and referred to social support services where appropriate. Screening included the PMHP’s risk factor assessment, as well as several other risk and mood screens which are being assessed against a diagnostic gold standard. The most robust screening items were identified for inclusion in a valid, responsive and pragmatic new tool which may be used in limited-resource settings.
Overview of the Hanover Park maternal mental health screening study
Call for greater global focus on improving quality of mental health care for women in the perinatal phase
Researchers and healthcare services have focused on depression, particularly postnatal depression, but a growing evidence base has accrued on the importance of other primary and comorbid disorders, particularly bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders (post-trauma stress, obsessive-compulsive, panic and generalized anxiety disorders), psychosis, eating disorders and personality disorder in both the antenatal and postnatal period.
The World Psychiatric Association urges all health care professionals and policy makers to improve pregnancy outcomes, reduce maternal and infant morbidity and mortality, improve care of the infant and enhance the mother infant relationship.
The WPA calls for all health professionals and other care providers to look beyond depression and also focus on other symptoms of anxiety, PTSD, somatic symptoms (as potential indicators for depression) and psychotic disorders. Women with severe mental illnesses need to be recognised as a high risk group requiring co-ordinated obstetric, paediatric and mental health care.
Read the full statement by the World Psychiatric Association (WPA)
In low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), competing health priorities, civil conflict, and a lack of political will mean that expenditure on mental health is a fraction of that needed to meet the mental health care needs of the population.
For mothers, this treatment gap is most notable in regions where health agendas focus on maternal mortality indicators.
Who is at risk of perinatal mental health disorder?
Common mental disorders during pregnancy and in the first year after birth are associated with certain risk factors. These include poverty, migration, extreme stress, exposure to violence (domestic, sexual and gender-based), previous history of mental disorders, alcohol and other drug use as well as low social support.
In South Africa, there is a very high prevalence of adolescent pregnancies with 39% of 15- to 19-year old girls being pregnant at least once. When adolescent mothers suffer from depression, the likelihood of a subsequent teenage pregnancy nearly doubles.
How to address maternal mental illness among economically disadvantaged parents?
Integration of services!
Mothers in many settings are using maternal and child health services as well as social services. Thus, detection and access will increase if maternal health screening and services are integrated into these public care platforms.
How to implement a maternal mental health intervention in low-resource settings?
We are sharing our lessons learned in this learning brief.
We have also developed a Service Development Guidelines which demonstrates how to develop a mental health intervention at your facility, even with limited resources.
Find more free & open access resources for professionals on our website
And what about dads?
Postnatal depression can affect dads too. Find out about common concerns for new dads and discover helpful tips on how they can become more involved. We compiled a leaflet with information that could help you be better prepared for what is happening. The leaflets are available in
Women’s Voices – Maternal Mental Health
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), supported by the Maternal Mental Health Alliance (MMHA), have published a survey Women’s Voices – Maternal Mental Health which highlights the urgent need to improve maternal mental health-care.
The survey of over 2,300 women who had given birth in the last five years in the UK, explores their experiences of perinatal mental health problems, engagement with healthcare professionals and the quality of care they received. It reveals the impact of low rates of specialist referral, long waits, as well as lack of consensus over medication and little support for their partners.
The results present a stark picture of how services are letting down some of the most vulnerable women in our society, and provides key recommendations for healthcare professionals, managers, providers, commissioners and policy-makers.
– Women reported experiencing low rates of referral, long waits, regional variation of care, a lack of continuity of care, misunderstanding and stigma
– The mental health of women’s partners is also often neglected by healthcare professionals and services
Source: RCOG survey women’s voices
Download the RCOG survey
Download the RCOG infographic
The most common mental health condition to affect perinatal women and mothers worldwide are depression and anxiety.
These illnesses impact thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
Routine antenatal and postpartum health services provide an opportunity for heightened and psychologically informed mental health care. Even in the poorest countries, there is some provision for antenatal, perinatal, postpartum, and infant health care and other primary health care services.
Interventions to improve maternal mental health and related child survival, health and development can be integrated into these existing services.
At the PMHP service delivery sites, we provide routine screening for pregnant women and girls for depression and anxiety at the first antenatal visit. If they show signs or are at risk of depression or anxiety, free on-site psychosocial counselling, follow-up and case management is provided by our trained counsellors for up to one-year post delivery.
The PMHP model is based on a stepped care approach, which means that referrals are made to psychiatric services when necessary
Learn more about our integrated, stepped-care, collaborative service model, implemented through task sharing.
Guest blog post by Dyane Harwood – originally submitted to WMMHday Blog
Bipolar disorder, postpartum depression, and postpartum psychosis have made media headlines over the past couple years. Katie Holmes stars as a lovestruck poet with bipolar disorder in the film “Touched With Fire.” The British hit television show “EastEnders” featured a postpartum psychosis storyline that gained national attention. In a landmark decision, the U.S. Preventative Task Force called for screening for depression during and after pregnancy.
While the greater awareness of postpartum mood disorders is promising, postpartum bipolar disorder, the mood disorder I was diagnosed with, is virtually unheard of. Postpartum bipolar is also known as bipolar, peripartum onset, and it’s arguably the least known of the six postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. It might seem unimportant to publicize an obscure mood disorder, but every mom’s postpartum experience counts. Many medical professionals are unaware that postpartum bipolar exists. Some postpartum and bipolar organizations are unfamiliar with postpartum bipolar or they’re unclear about its definition. When I was pregnant, my obstetrician didn’t question me about my mental health or my family’s mental health history. My father had bipolar disorder, but before and during my pregnancy I didn’t show any signs of mental illness.
When I went into labor, my life changed overnight. We went to the hospital and I stayed up all night in pain. When my daughter Marilla was born the next day, I became hypomanic. I was exuberant and talkative (both signs of hypomania), but I appeared relatively normal. My baby attracted most of the attention, and no one noticed that I was in trouble. Exhausted, I sensed something was off, but I kept my fearful feelings inside. Within forty-eight hours I had hypergraphia, a rare condition in which one compulsively writes. I wrote at every opportunity, even during breastfeeding, when I should’ve been resting and focusing on my baby. I could barely sleep as my mania escalated, and poor Marilla didn’t gain enough weight because I didn’t breastfeed her sufficiently. A month postpartum, I knew I was manic; after all, I had witnessed mania in my father. I frantically searched the internet about postpartum mania, but my search only yielded postpartum psychosis statistics. During Marilla’s six-week checkup, her observant pediatrician heard my racing voice and pressurized speech (both behaviors are symptoms of bipolar disorder) and blurted out “Dyane, I think you’re manic!” I burst into tears. While I felt ashamed, I was relieved that he realized what was happening. It was clear I needed hospitalization, but leaving my newborn was agonizing. I admitted myself into a hospital’s psychiatric unit where I was diagnosed with postpartum bipolar disorder. After years of hospitalizations, medication trials, and electroconvulsive (ECT) therapy, I’m stable and doing well. While bipolar disorder ravages many relationships, my husband and I have stayed together, in part, thanks to the guidance of counselors and psychiatrists. Life will always be a challenge, but my two daughters inspire me to take care of myself.
While chances of postpartum bipolar are low, it can affect any mother. Obstetrician and Perinatal Mental Health Lead Dr. Raja Gangopadhyay of West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust, UK, explains, “The risk of developing new-onset severe mental illness is higher in early post-childbirth period than any other time in women’s life. Family history, pre-existing mental health conditions, traumatic birth experience and sleep deprivation could be potential risk factors. Bipolar illness can present for the first time during this period. Accurate diagnosis is the key to the recovery.” Confusion abounds regarding postpartum bipolar and postpartum psychosis. While the two conditions can present together, postpartum bipolar isn’t always accompanied by postpartum psychosis. Perinatal psychologist Shoshana Bennett Ph.D., co-author of the bestselling classic “Beyond the Blues: A Guide to Understanding and Treating Prenatal and Postpartum Depression and Anxiety\” says, “Many women I’ve worked with had been previously misdiagnosed with postpartum depression. I always make a point of discussing this during my presentations. In addition, postpartum bipolar disorder deserves its own category separate from postpartum psychosis.” Mental health screening during pregnancy would be of immense value to every mom. Women with a family history of bipolar disorder could be observed postpartum, and if symptoms manifested they’d be treated immediately. It’s imperative that doctors and other caregivers assess women not only for postpartum depression but also bipolar symptoms. Everyone who lives with a stigmatized illness deserves a chance to find support and empathy from others who understand her experience. Through connecting with those who can relate to our mood disorder, we may not find a magic cure, but virtual support can be profoundly helpful.
Postpartum Support International created online support groups in English and Spanish led by trained facilitators, while the Postpartum Progress website offers moms a private forum to interact with one another. I’ve never personally met another mom who has postpartum bipolar and I yearn to do so. If you or someone you know is or might be suffering from postpartum bipolar disorder please reach out to me at my blog www.proudlybipolar.wordpress.com — I’d love to hear from you!