I have a confession to make. In my last post, I shared how I had ‘wanted’ to self-harm and experienced low level depression as a workaholic yet successful and confident career woman.
After both my daughters were born, I experienced severe postnatal depression. Nowadays we talk about perinatal depression. (By the way, perinatal if you talk to obstetricians refers to the period antenatal to 6 weeks after birth. In mental health terms, the perinatal period is from conception to the first year after the baby is born).
Today I want to share something else with you …
I’m scared to admit this to myself. Out loud. In writing. On paper. On the screen.
I don’t know how I didn’t realise this before.
You know what? That tough inner confidence and resilience has kept me alive.
Will you think any less of me for sharing? There is such stigma and shame attached to mental health.
The thing is … over the past two days, I have been a participant in an amazing Perinatal Mental Health workshop delivered by the Institute of Health Visiting for NCT Practitioners. We are the vanguard in a project to train as NCT Perinatal Mental Health Practitioners. It’s very exciting to be part of this project, though somewhat overwhelming because there is so much to do. The idea is that we will act as ambassadors for perinatal mental health in our local area, cascade training to our colleagues, and enable volunteer teams to support mothers with perinatal mental illness.
One report demonstrates that perinatal mental health problems costs about £8.1 billion for each one-year cohort of births in the UK. Failing to deal adequately with perinatal mental health and the potentially ensuing child maltreatment costs an estimated £23 billion each year. Those figures are staggering.
And get this. The BIGGEST cause of death for women in the first year after giving birth … suicide. And typically these women choose a violent form of suicide e.g. hanging, jumping, knives, stepping out in front of a train. More violent than if they’d committed suicide outside that perinatal period. You want to weep at these figures. And you could choose to collapse on the floor and weep. Weep for the women, weep for the children, weep for the fathers, weep for the grandmothers.
If we all sat on the floor weeping, how can you ever change the world? Shed some tears, please do. And yes that’s what I did today. However I’m not going to stay weeping. I am going to take action. I want to change the world. I want children to have happy memories of family life and in order for that to happen, we have to get more support to women in the perinatal period.
So back to that something else I wanted to share with you.
Many of us know the general signs of depression: lack of energy, sleep disruption, hopelessness, tired all the time, lack of appetite, withdrawal from family and friends, guilt, self blame … There is also self neglect and self harm.
If a woman self harms, the risk of killing herself is greater than for a woman who doesn’t self harm. What came out of today’s session is when we talk about self harm, often we think about cutting. When I shared yesterday that I had ‘wanted’ to self harm, cutting is what I meant. I wanted to cut my wrists. There I said it. But I didn’t. Something stopped me. That inner strength.
When we discussed the other ways to self harm, I had a big realisation. I glanced at the handout on ways to self harm and my brain froze. I felt my whole body clam up. I felt paralysed. For a few seconds I couldn’t hear what the facilitator was saying. Because there staring me in the face was the realisation that I used to self harm. I didn’t just want to do it. I did it. Today is the first time that I realised I was self harming.
I can’t quite bring myself (yet) to share my way but ways of self harming include:
- Cutting, burning, biting
- Substance abuse
- Head banging and hitting
- Taking personal risks
- Picking and scratching
- Neglecting oneself
- Pulling out hair
- Overdosing / Self-poisoning
And yet the tragedy is the absolute dire lack of specialist perinatal mental health care and services. Check out your area on this map. My area is red which means we have practically nothing.
You might be thinking – it’s depression, it’s an illness, you can get over it. Not every case ends in suicide. However the impact of perinatal mental health is HUGE. It affects the mother-baby relationship: it affects mum’s parenting style and ability. That in turn has a significant impact on a child’s future mental and physical health. They are at increased risk for emotional and behavioural problems, including anxiety and depression; increased risk of domestic abuse; substance abuse; it affects their career. It affects our society.
Perinatal mental health is not just for mums to cope with. We all have a role to play. It’s #everyonesbusiness.
I am so excited to be part of this new project. I took two actions away from today’s workshop:
- join my MSLC* [I know perinatal mental health is high on their agenda is this fate calling me to action? the next meeting is tomorrow!]
- blog about self harm [done]
If you’ve worked with me, or know about The Confident Mother philosophy you’ll know about the 5 elements that make up your confidence circle: contribution, wellness, work, family, and the feminine. It is so important to take responsibility for your own wellness – physical, mental and emotional. But often it’s hard to take the first step when you are depressed. Perhaps this link might help.
If this article touches you in any way, please ask for help if you need to. I’ve been there. I know what it’s like. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes you can’t see it.
*MSLC is the Maternity Services Liaison Committee – typically a mixed group of service users and health professionals who work together to improve maternity services