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Mental Health: Motherhood and mental health

The physical and emotional changes of pregnancy increase the risk of depression

Mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a meaningful contribution to their community.

Mental health is a critical component of individual, family, community and national wellbeing and prosperity.

Becoming a mother can be a joyous and fulfilling transition in life.

Motherhood is a life altering experience that comes with various emotions and in some women can affect mental wellbeing.

How motherhood can affect mental health?

Being a mother can be a positive experience mentally and can help mothers:

  • Learning to love someone selflessly and unconditionally
  • Enjoying being a part of the growth and development of a child
  • Growing personally, becoming more organised and efficient to manage the demands of children, life and multiple responsibilities, managing conflict and chaos and competing priorities

However being a mother can have negative mental health effects including:

  • Challenges of infertility: Even before motherhood begins, many women may face the challenge of struggling to conceive.

In many cultures women often bear the blame and in medical treatment of infertility, women often bear the physical burden of treatments.

All this can be stressful and overwhelming.

  • During pregnancy: The physical and emotional changes of pregnancy increase the risk of depression particularly in women who may have had depression in the past and women who may have poor social support.

Symptoms of depression in pregnancy include mood changes, irritability, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, changes in appetite and difficulty concentrating.

  • After the birth of a child: the physical challenges of caring for a new born, the hormonal shifts that occur after birth can result in a low mood or ‘baby blues’ in the first few days after delivery but can persist as post-natal depression in some women.
  • The loss of a child: death of an infant or young child is always an unnatural loss and can be unbearable for a mother.

It is a loss of what we believed would outlive us, of the future we dreamt of. It can shake our beliefs of what is right, what is just, what is fair, what is the natural order of things.

We can lose our bearings as the predictability of life is shattered.

  • Multiple layered responsibilities: women often have to juggle multiple roles of child care, household work, care of the elderly, care of those who are unwell in the home and work outside the home.

This can all be overwhelming and negatively affect a mother’s mental wellbeing.

What can put the mental health of mothers at risk?

Factors that can result in common mental health problems in mothers such as depression and anxiety include:

  • Having had depression or anxiety in the past
  • Having physical or psychological health issues during the pregnancy or a difficult delivery
  • Relationship difficulties with one’s spouse or partner
  • Financial difficulties
  • Poor social support
  • Very young mothers, and unplanned pregnancies

How can we as a community support mothers and their mental wellbeing?

  • Increased awareness about mental health problems in the community:

This will help mothers recognise mental health challenges early and seek help appropriately.

  • Invest in mental health services to improve the quality of mental health services: This will ensure access to quality healthcare services for all mothers.
  • Supporting mothers during pregnancy and postpartum period. Regular, routine screening for common mental health problems should become part of basic care before, during and after pregnancy.

This would help identify women at risk and those needing additional support during this phase of life. This will benefit both mothers and their children.

  • Sharing our story and encouraging mothers support groups: Sharing a problem with others in a similar phase of life can help relieve the sense of isolation and help to support others who may also be struggling in their journey of motherhood

If you think that you or a mother that you know may be struggling with a mental health problem, please contact your nearest health care provider and get help.

*Dr Chido Rwafa-Madzvamutse is a consultant psychiatrist. Feedback: WhatsApp: +263714987729

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