Being pregnant is a happy time, isn’t it? Well actually 1 in 10 pregnant women suffer from anxiety or antenatal depression in pregnancy, and it is less likely to be diagnosed during pregnancy than any other time. The charity Tommy’s have created an emotive video encouraging women to ask for help if they feel or are suffering with antenatal depression.

“I suffered during my pregnancy with antenatal depression. This was 15 years ago now, but I can still remember sitting on the floor in my dining room completely lost, feeling alone and frightened by the very strong feelings I had. I kept a diary throughout my IVF journey and subsequent pregnancy, a good old fashioned hard back diary, and when I look back over what I wrote I now know that I clearly had antenatal depression.  I did come through it, but had I been aware or even realised I could have perhaps got some help and support, rather than struggling through”

Debbie Bird – managing editor of babyworld.co.uk

Pregnant women suffer with mental health

Between 10-15% of all pregnant women suffer with mental health problems such as depression and anxiety1, yet data suggests that disorders in pregnancy may not be diagnosed until the postnatal period, or even at all.2

The video, named The face, follows the story of a pregnant woman who exemplifies the real-life experiences of anxiety and depression felt by many women during pregnancy and early motherhood.

Tommy’s wants to see mental health treated on parity with physical health in pregnancy and urges women to look for help if they feel upset more than they feel happy.

Around 11% of women experience depressive symptoms in pregnancy, and around 5% have a major depressive disorder.2 Anxiety disorders in the perinatal period are also common, affecting around 13% of women2.  Although rates do not differ between pregnant and non-pregnant women, it has been suggested that identification and treatment are lower in pregnancy.The data also suggests that in a third of cases, ‘postnatal’ depression actually starts during the pregnancy but it is often not recognised or treated at this point.3

Symptoms of depression and anxiety include feeling sad, hopeless, tearful, irritable and losing interest in things previously enjoyed. Some of these are also common symptoms of pregnancy which can make it difficult to identify a more serious problem. Persistent feelings that last beyond a couple of weeks should be checked out by a health professional such as the midwife, GP or health visitor.

“There is the expectation that a woman’s experience of pregnancy should always be joyous, but the truth is that pregnant women often put emotional and mental pressure on themselves to feel happy all the time. It is important for pregnant women not to feel embarrassed or guilty about experiencing the emotions they didn’t expect during pregnancy. They deserve compassionate support and should speak to a midwife, health visitor or GP for professional advice.”

Professor Louise Howard, Consultant Perinatal Psychiatrist and Professor of Women’s Mental Health at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London

Theresa from Weymouth suffered antenatal depression

Theresa, 28, from Weymouth, and her partner were going through a lot of life changes when she fell pregnant and the combination of change and pregnancy hormones triggered a spell of depression:

“Soon after I got pregnant, I started to cry all the time. People would say to me that I was crying over nothing, but actually I was crying over everything, all the time. I had everything I wanted and yet I was upset and angry. I kept it all in, and then at my midwife appointment she casually asked me how I was coping and I just burst into tears. She referred me to my GP, who suggested I go for counselling, which was massively helpful. My father had died a couple of years ago and my counsellor suggested that I hadn’t grieved properly for that, she helped me go back and address lots of things.”

Abby from Bristol has experienced depression before

Abby, 38, from Bristol, had experienced depression before, and while she knew there was always a risk it would come back, she was so happy to be pregnant she didn’t think it would recur: “My baby was very much wanted and I was really looking forward to becoming a mum, so when I started to feel anxious it was such a shock. I had problems sleeping and within a week I had full-on depression. I was having panic attacks, and although I’ve never self-harmed before I started cutting myself. Things spiralled and I was admitted to my local hospital and assigned a crisis team when I returned home. When my daughter was born, I felt very little. It took a long time to get better, but I got counselling and that did help.”

Tips to look after your mental health

The Tommy’s midwives have also put together some top tips to look after your mental health during pregnancy.

  • Rest and focus on your baby. Take time out for you to do something you enjoy, improves your mood or helps you to relax
  • Talk about how you feel with someone, a family member, friend, health professional
  • Eat well – eat a variety of different foods and plenty of fruit and veg to get all the nutrients you and your baby need
  • Take some exercise
  • Take some time to think about and prepare for the birth and life with a new baby
    (a helpful Wellbeing Plan is available at www.tommys.org/file/Wellbeingplan.pdf)
  • Rest when you can and try to get regular sleep
  • Seek expert advice for worrying matters such as money, housing, employment and relationships

“Mental health problems in pregnant women can go unrecognised and untreated. This can have implications not just for the woman both during and after her pregnancy, but also potentially for her baby. Whilst the vast majority of babies are not affected there is an increased risk of emotional, behavioural or learning difficulties when a mother has a prolonged period of stress, anxiety or depression in pregnancy. As soon as a woman experiences any of these types of psychological problems, she should speak to her midwife or GP to help prevent any complications during and after her pregnancy.”

Katrina Ashton, Specialist midwife for antenatal and postnatal mental health, Medway

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