Blog Archives

MMH campaign summary and other news from the PMHP

Want to know how the Maternal Mental Health awareness campaign went this year?

Or want to check out our latest resources and developments in and around the PMHP?

Read our latest newsletter here

International Day of Action For Women’s Health: Ensuring Respectful Maternity Care

Crosspost from Maternal Health Task Force blog by Kayla McGowan, Project Coordinator, Women and Health Initiative, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

“As we celebrate International Day of Action for Women’s Health on May 28, we reflect on the physical, emotional and psychosocial dimensions of women’s health as well as the reasons to support girls’ and women’s health throughout the lifecycle.

With Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 calling for an end to all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere, the elimination of all violence against women and girls and universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights by 2030, now is the time to draw attention to the many elements of and impediments to women’s health and rights […]

Read the full blog entry: International Day of Action For Women’s Health: Ensuring Respectful Maternity Care | Maternal Health Task Force

Breaking the link between gender-based and intimate partner violence and HIV

Intimate partner violence (IPV) during or before pregnancy is associated with many adverse health outcomes.

Pregnancy-related complications or poor infant health outcomes can arise from direct trauma as well as physiological effects of stress, both of which impact maternal health and fetal growth and development.

Antenatal care can be a key entry point within the health system for many women, particularly in low-resource settings. Interventions to identify violence during pregnancy and offer women support and counselling may reduce the occurrence of violence and mitigate its consequences.

This research will provide much-needed evidence on whether a short counselling intervention delivered by nurses is efficacious and feasible in low-resource settings that have a high prevalence of IPV and HIV.

Source: BMC Health Services ResearchBMC series

Follow the project: BioMed Central

Maternal Depression: A Hidden Burden in Developing Countries

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.

Source: Maternal Depression: A Hidden Burden in Developing Countries

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.

[#WMMHday Blog Series #2] Postpartum Bipolar Disorder: The Invisible Postpartum Mood Disorder

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!

Many reasons to say Thank You

happy holidays from the PMHP

In our last newsletter of the year we’ve thanked you, our supporters, families and friends who believed in the work we do and supported us throughout 2016.

With your donation of expertise and money we were able to care for mothers in need and engage with those providing health and social support for them.

Enjoy this festive season and we are looking forward to an even more exciting 2017 with you!

In this newsletter we are highlighting some of the achievements of the previous two months. Happy reading.

perinatalmentalhealth_news

One in three migrant women from low- and middle-income countries has symptoms of perinatal depression

Migration and perinatal mental health in women from low- and middle-income countries.

In this systematic review and meta-analysis the authors summarising the prevalence, associated factors and interventions for perinatal mental disorders in migrant women from low- and middle-income countries (LMIC).

Even though they found that the prevalence of perinatal depression is very high among migrant women, the data they found was insufficient to assess the burden of anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder or psychosis in this population.

Furthermore the authors stress, that given the adverse consequences of perinatal mental illness on women and their children, further research in low-resource settings is a priority.

Read the abstract in the BJOG – International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaeocology

migrant_women_mental_health

Interested in mental illness among displaced, migrant and refugee women in South Africa? Read our Issue Brief

Why we should care about maternal mental health

Empathic engagement with mothers

Image: Graeme Arendse

When I examined Johanna*, I noticed that Johanna was very quiet during the examination. Although everything was fine with the pregnancy, I knew that something was wrong. Johanna had filled in a mental health screening questionnaire, which is routinely offered in our clinic. She had a high score. When I approached Johanna to offer a referral to the PMHP counsellor, she started crying. When I asked what was wrong, Johanna said I can’t talk about it. She did, however, want to see a counsellor.

This is only one of many stories we hear from our nurses and midwifes at at one of our service sites. So why is it important that we train health and social workers and advocate for routine mental health screening in all maternity units in the country?

Read about Johanna’s way out of an abusive relationship and how the counselling empowered her to seek help here

What is perinatal mental health?

Some people may be confused about some of the words used in relation to maternal mental health, like ‘intrapartum’, post-partum’, ‘ante-natal’, ‘post-natal’. The time during pregnancy, may be called the ‘antenatal’ or ‘prenatal’ period. ‘Postnatal’ refers to the time after birth. In the mental health field, postnatal may refer to 6 months or 12 months after the birth. Intrapartum usually refers to the labour and delivery time. ‘Perinatal’ refers to the time from the beginning of pregnancy to the end of the first year after the birth.

It is important not to confuse the ‘baby blues’ with postnatal depression. The ‘baby blues’ occurs in about 60-70% of mothers. Feelings of being overwhelmed and tearfulness occur on the third or fourth day after the birth and these resolve usually within a week. Depression or anxiety are more serious conditions and usually require some form of treatment. Depression or anxiety may occur during pregnancy, after pregnancy or in both time periods. The symptoms of these conditions may be confused with the usual physical symptoms of pregnancy such as sleep and appetite changes, aches and pains, tiredness or changing emotions. However, depression and anxiety affects a person’s mood, thoughts and how they function in most areas of their lives.

‘Psychosis’ is when a person becomes out of touch with reality. Postpartum psychosis is actually rare. It occurs in about 1 in every 1000 women (0.1%) who have a baby. This illness, if rapidly and effectively managed, usually resolves completely so that mothers may return to being well and fully functional.

Find more definitions on perinatal mood disorder here

Why should we care about it?

Perinatal depression and anxiety are significant mental and public health problems with well-documented consequences for mothers, children, and families. In developed countries, suicide is a leading cause of maternal death.

Because of the stigma of mental illness and a lack of understanding, many women who suffer from depression and anxiety, and their families, are not aware that these conditions require treatment (like any other health condition) and that they can be managed (often with relatively simple methods) so that they can recover fully.

Mental health care usually starts with some form of ‘talking therapy’. This can provide the necessary support to empower a women to identify resources and personal capabilities. A therapeutic relationship can enhance a woman’s resilience to difficult life circumstances and support her to nurture her children optimally. Caring for mothers is thus a positive intervention for long-term social development. Many women may also safely benefit from antidepressant medication which effectively treat both depression and anxiety.

How many are affected?

According to the World Health Organisation, worldwide about 10% of pregnant women and 13% of women who have just given birth, experience a mental disorder, mainly depression. In developing countries this is even higher, i.e. 16% during pregnancy and 20% after child birth.

In South Africa, studies show that at least one in every five women suffering during or after pregnancy.

1 in 5 women suffering from depression

Why is mental illness during and after pregnancy so common in South Africa?

Pregnancy and the postnatal period is a psychologically distressing time for many women, particularly for those living in poverty, or with violence, abuse, HIV/AIDS or an unintended pregnancy. Many women in South Africa live in these circumstances.

Several studies on prevalence of common perinatal mental disorders in low and middle income countries are collated on our website.

Who is at risk?

Infographic: Anisha Gururaj and Ashley Pople

Perinatal mental health is connected to a wide range of issues faced by women and although many of the risk factors are common for all women, they can vary from country to country. See the infographic below for comparative risk factors between India and South Africa.

Women in South Africa are particularly at risk when faced by:

  • Domestic violence – violence contributes to poor mental health, and poor mental health makes it more difficult for women to negotiate relationships where there is conflict
  • HIV/AIDS– HIV puts people at greater risk of mental health difficulties, while poor mental health makes it less likely that those who are HIV positive to adhere to treatment
  • Refugee issues– women who are refugees are more likely to suffer mental health difficulties due to their past experiences and to a current lack of support
  • Substance abuse – poor mental health makes women more likely to use substances such as alcohol in an attempt to feel better, but in turn, these substances and the circumstances around using them, lead to worse mental health
  • Teen pregnancy – teenagers with poor mental health are more likely to engage in risky behavior and become pregnant, while pregnancy brings increased social and emotional pressures which then affect mental health

What can we do about it?

Education is key and it is important that mothers and families are sensitized. Informing mothers about perinatal mental health will go a long way in helping them manage depression, anxiety and related illnesses. This education must include information about how to get help and support.

The support may be emotional, practical or financial. Partners should pay attention to the needs of the mothers as well as their own mental health. Seeking help when it is necessary for either or both parents, is a useful way to cope with difficult circumstances. This may be from family, community, health or social workers or faith-based organisations.

Find out where you can receive help in South Africa here

*The PMHP is committed to client confidentiality in keeping with the ethical requirements of professional mental health practice. The client stories reflect common scenarios or sets of circumstances faced by many of our clients. Pseudonyms are used and details are changed. The stories are not based on any one particular woman’s experience, unless an individual explicitly chooses to share her story with or without her name attached.  

Suicide risks among pregnant women and new mothers

To mark World Suicide Prevention Day we’d like to focus on suicidal thoughts during the perinatal period

Mothers’ emotional needs can go undetected during the perinatal period where there is much attention on the baby and women often face multiple difficulties. Studies have shown that women at risk for suicide may be easier identified, by increasing screening of expectant and new mothers for major depression and conflicts with intimate partners. Thus care providers and family may be able to detect symptoms and signs of suicidal thoughts and possibly prevent further distress or the development of suicidal behaviour.

Symptoms and warning signs include 

– Talk of suicide or dying “If I died, would you miss me?” or “It would be better if I were not here or dead.”
– Depressive symptoms, including feelings of guilt, hopelessness or no sense of the future.
– Feeling isolated or wanting to be alone “No one understands me”.
– Obsessive thinking – thinking ‘too much’, especially about harming oneself or dying
– Giving things away (clothes, expensive gifts), “When I am gone, I want you to have this.”

Our recently produced Issue Brief deals with some of the risk factors and unearths some of the myths surrounding suicide during and after pregnancy.

Suicide during pregnancy - myths

Read this and other Issue Briefs on our website

#WSPD16 will be commemorated on 10 September
Join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #WSPD16

New PMH Toolkit offers diverse collection of resources

The Royal College of General Practitioners has launched a new
Perinatal Mental Health Toolkit

The resources are designed to support GPs and healthcare professionals to support and deliver the care patients with perinatal mental health conditions need.

Furthermore it contains resources for mothers, fathers and an entire section on family support, self-care and well-being during and after pregnancy. This includes information leaflets for patients, and links to supporting charities and social media groups.

CaringForFuture

This toolkit offers a comprehensive and holistic approach to tackle the stigma of perinatal mental health problems!

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