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In response to Daily Maverick article: “Antidepressants during pregnancy linked to autism in kids: study”

We would like to take the opportunity to raise caution with regard to the article published in The Daily Maverick  titled “Antidepressants during pregnancy linked to autism in kids: study” on 20 July 2017

“Single studies like this need to be interpreted with great caution. Risk does not mean an inevitable outcome. Furthermore, an association does not necessarily mean cause. An association may reflect a causal link between autism and severe depression or the association may reflect a causal link between the medication and autism.

The global evidence is increasingly showing that the risk of untreated depression or anxiety perinatally on the foetus and infant, are likely to outweigh the risks of antidepressants on offspring outcomes. Balancing the risks is an important part of the decision to treat with antidepressants or not. This decision needs to be individualized and made collaboratively, as part of the consultation between the woman and her practitioner.”
Dr Simone Honikman, Perinatal Mental Health Project (PMHP)

The article is published here

Further information on antidepressant use during pregnancy in our Issue Brief

Breaking the negative cycle of mental ill-health and poverty during the perinatal period

The negative cycle of mental ill-health and poverty is particularly relevant for women and their infants during the perinatal period. During this time, major life transitions render women more vulnerable to mental illness from social, economic and gender-based perspectives.

Those with the most need for mental health support, have the least access. Overburdened maternal and mental health services have not been able to address adequately this significant unmet need. There have been limited attempts at a programmatic level, to integrate mental health care within maternal care services.

The perinatal period, where women are accessing health services for their obstetric care, presents a unique opportunity to intervene in the event of mental distress. Preventive work involving screening and counselling may have far-reaching impact for women, their offspring and future generations.

Mental health care is a notoriously neglected area – even more so in “healthy” pregnant and postnatal women. The focus on the physical to the detriment of the emotional is particularly felt now against the backdrop of HIV and AIDS. The public health service has been unable to address the mental health needs of women from poorer communities – neither within maternity services nor within mental health services. This is despite a wide body of evidence showing that distress in the mother may have long-lasting physical, cognitive and emotional effects on her children.

Integrating mental health into maternal care in South Africa

The PMHP aims to integrate mental health service routinely, within the primary maternal care environment.
Based at selected government MoU facilities in Cape Town, we offer counselling and support services focused on the emotional wellbeing of pregnant women with a strong focus on postnatal and clinical depression.

Let’s talk about mental health of pregnant teenagers

It’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month in some parts of the world

We want to emphasise that sex-education can prevent teenage pregnancy, but let’s not forget a teen mom is not only struggling with the normal issues of being a teenager, yet another part is facing the responsibilities of an adult!

Teenage pregnancy rates in South Africa are high, with around 30% of teenagers in the country reporting ever having been pregnant. According to the 2015 annual school survey, over 15,000 pupils fell pregnant during the academic year. This is nearly triple the worldwide rate of pregnancy in teenagers.

The psychological impact of pregnancy on teenagers is pronounced; adolescents are twice as likely as adults to experience postpartum depression. Another concern is the lack of education, with only about a third of pregnant girls in South Africa going on to finish their schooling. Incomplete education and lack of skills make it difficult for these young women to find work in order to support themselves and their children.

There are a number of physical ramifications to teenage pregnancy – unsafe abortions, for example, can cause injury or death. As a whole, complications during pregnancy and birth are the second leading cause of death for adolescent girls worldwide. But it’s not only them that face serious risks during this period – their babies also have a much higher risk of dying than those born to older mothers.

One way of decreasing the risks to both mother and child is by making skilled antenatal, childbirth and postnatal care available in a safe, teen-friendly environment. This should include counselling with the intent of providing emotional support, mobilising potential resources, and teaching important information about childcare.

Further readings: Pregnancy – a guide for teens

A guide to pregnancy, giving birth, and life as a mom for teens

Written by: Meagan Dill, PMHP volunteer

[#WMMHday Blog Series #4] “Falling Over the Edge”

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

[#WMMHday Blog Series #3] “Coming Up for Air”

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

A brief, valid mental health screen for mothers living in adversity

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

Looking beyond depression

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)

Women’s voices report on maternal mental health

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.

Key findings

– 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

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!

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