It’s OK not to be OK

Mental illness during and after pregnancy are much more common than we think, yet sadly often not talked about.

7 in 10 women will hide or underplay the severity of their pre and postnatal mental issues while as many as one in five women develop a mental health problem during pregnancy or in the first year after the birth of their baby.

Here are some statistics. In the UK it is estimated that:

  • More than 150.000 women experience adjustment disorder and distress
  • More than 86,000 experience mild to moderate depressive illness and anxiety states
  • More than 20,000 experience post-traumatic stress disorder
  • More than 20,000 experience severe depressive illness
  • More than 1,300 experience serious mental illness
  • More than 1,300 experience postpartum psychosis

Depression and anxiety are the most common mental health problems during and after pregnancy, and they are the ones I often come across in my line of work.

Around 12% of women experiencing depression and around 13% experiencing anxiety at some point, while many women will experience both.

Depression and anxiety also affect around 15‑20% of women in the first year after the baby is born.

I too was one in five. I was diagnosed with postnatal anxiety around 6 months after my first son was born.

I consider myself lucky because I quickly recognised something wasn’t right and asked for help. I had heart palpitations and found it exceptionally hard to sleep, even though my son was peacefully sleeping through the night.

Symptoms often get overlooked though, put down as just a normal part of the postpartum period or ignored because of shame, fear etc.  And when they are not addressed, it can take a long time to get better.

The combination and severity of symptoms will be different for every mother. Below is the list some very common ones:

  • feeling low, teary or sad a lot of the time
  • feeling overwhelmed, angry or cranky
  • constantly feeling tired and lacking energy
  • abrupt mood swings
  • being nervous, ‘on edge’, or panicky
  • being easily annoyed or irritated
  • having panic attacks (a racing heart, palpitations, shortness of breath, shaking or feeling physically ‘detached’ from your surroundings)
  • feeling anxious
  • lose of confidence
  • scared of being alone or going out
  • thinking you’re worthless or a failure
  • blaming yourself for everything that goes wrong
  • thinking your baby would be better off with someone else
  • feeling you can’t cope
  • having trouble thinking clearly, concentrating or making decisions (people with depression often describe this as a ‘brain fog’)
  • developing obsessive or compulsive thoughts and/or behaviours
  • think about hurting yourself or your baby
  • losing interest in activities you normally enjoy
  • finding it hard to get moving
  • struggling with everyday tasks like cooking or shopping
  • withdraw from close family and friends
  • not look after yourself properly
  • sleeping too much or not sleeping very well at all
  • changes in appetite

When perinatal depression or anxiety is addressed, things can get better quite quickly though. It can be as little as more self care, enlisting some help or finding time to relax. It might take a bit more, but nevertheless, it’s worth the trouble.

So – if you can relate to some of the above or think things are not quite right, speak up and ask for help.

You are not alone!