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post natal depression

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Does a woman of privilege and power ever have the right to complain?

 

The world has growing consciousness over the difficulties mental health presents, and yet, it appears there is still progress to be made before everyone is permitted to speak up and say how they truly feel.

Meghan Markle was at the centre of a social media storm following the controversial documentary ‘Harry & Meghan: An African Journey.’

Many were outraged, remarking the Duchess was audacious in complaining about her privileged position within the British Royal Family, while on a tour of Africa, around those who are, arguably, some of the world’s poorest.

In contrast, many were impressed with Meghan’s honesty and for highlighting the fact many new parents find it difficult to cope even with a privileged social and financial position.

Some felt this statement was ill timed, given their documentary was to highlight their tour of Africa; however Meghan raises an important point of discussion: regardless of a person’s socio-economic background, hormonal ups and downs caused by pregnancy and life with a newborn can impact on a person’s mental health. Once the initial euphoria subsides, overwhelming emotions can be hard, for anyone, to process.

Statistics for anxiety and depression in parents are alarmingly high, with up to 1 in 10 women experiencing antenatal anxiety and depression and more than 1 in 7 experiencing postnatal depression, as reported by PANDA.

 

Men do not escape unharmed from the effects of pregnancy either, with research from PANDA stating 1 in 20 men will experience antenatal anxiety and depression and up to 1 in 10 new dads are likely to experience postnatal depression.

Having a new baby creates multiple changes, many of which are overwhelming: concern about parenting ‘correctly’; the sleep deprivation; breastfeeding challenges; hormonal changes; relationship changes; financial strain and career concerns, all come into play.

Some assume Meghan has no rights to complain. For instance, she has no money worries, appears to be in a happy, devoted marriage and has a large team of staff supporting her within the prestigious British Royal Family, how can she be struggling?

However, Meghan is talking about mental health, which we are continually reminded, does not discriminate. Mental health affects our favourite movie stars, singers, TV personalities and athletes.

It is easy to assume those in privileged positions are vaccinated against any form of sadness, anxiety or depression. But in reality, could it be the assumption they are coping, which ignites their predisposition to mental health struggles?

 

Whether you love or loathe the Duchess of Sussex, she raises an important point about the internal damage that can be caused by keeping quiet about the state of your mental health.

In conclusion, asking someone if they are ok is a question everyone should be asked. It is a question that could potentially lead to that person asking for the help they desperately need.

If you or someone you know is struggling please reach out, speak to your medical professional or seek support from organisations, such as Beyond Blue and PANDA.

Kirsten from NSW, mother of two, shares her personal story on managing anxiety and post-natal depression.

When my son was born 10 years ago I was excessively worried about looking after him, both during and after the pregnancy, to the point where the fear was crippling. The five nights I spent in hospital I hardly slept, the anxiety just kept me awake. I started to obsess over sleep routines for him and for myself. My head was always full of what ifs. I feared being alone with him and didn’t want my first husband to go to work. The anxiety just increased and I started experiencing burning sensations in my back, arms and neck.

The anxiety and worry led to two weeks of no sleep and so I took myself to the hospital to get help. They administered some medication to help me calm down and I stayed there for a week. By that stage, I honestly felt like my body had forgotten how to sleep. The anxiety led to severe depression. I received some psychological help which allowed me to get by. Medication helped me to feel better and to sleep at night.

Eventually over the next few months I think I just got used to being a mum, gained confidence and eventually things went back to normal. I also went back to work part time where I felt safe and confident. When my second husband and I decided to try for a baby I started the process of gaining a better understanding of postnatal depression and anxiety through research. I guess I was doing all I could to prevent going through that nightmare experience again. So in 2014, I gave birth to our beautiful daughter and I felt so much more comfortable and so excited and full of joy.

Over the next eight weeks I didn’t recognise that the anxiety was slowly building. At eight weeks old she had one unsettled night where she wouldn’t drink her bottle and I started worrying so much about it that I couldn’t sleep that night. That triggered everything that had happened eight years before only much more intensely. I didn’t sleep for three nights and the burning sensations were back.

During one of my sleepless nights I was searching the internet for help and found a Mum and Bubs unit for anxiety and depression at a hospital. I booked in as soon as I could. Mentally I felt detached from reality, like I was going insane, like I was in a fog. I was so indecisive about the simplest things like packing the baby bag. I couldn’t believe that I had gone from being a confident capable teacher, who had who had a huge capacity and had achieved a lot of things in her life, so someone who struggled to put clothes on the line or leave the house with her baby and felt fear when she was alone with my daughter.

Mentally I felt detached from reality, like I was going insane, like I was in a fog.

After a panic attack in hospital, the psychiatrist on duty asked me what my plan was for getting out of here. That motivated and empowered me to work on the strategies I needed to get back on my feet. I wrote out positive affirmations and scriptures that challenged some of my irrational negative unhelpful thinking. I worked out what a daily and weekly plan would look like when I got home. That structure and support made me feel more in control and confident to leave the hospital. My faith kept me confident that God was with me and he would pull me through. My husband was my main support. I believe that where I’m at today is due to being proactive in my recovery and the support of my husband.

Today I try to manage my mental health by doing exercise, my faith in God, his word and prayer, medication, relaxation like yoga and mindfulness, attending anxiety support groups, psychologist and psychiatrist sessions. Today I look after my daughter with confidence and competence and I do not get anxious when I am alone with her. I have found looking outside myself to support and educate others about depression and anxiety has helped me stay well. I love my life today and I find enjoyment in my family and my interests but I still need to use the tools I’ve learnt to manage the triggers for the anxiety on a daily basis to stay well.

Republished from beyondblue’s Just Speak Up stories

Expert in the field, Professor Marie-Paule Austin discusses why post natal depression is such a debilitating illness which affects a large number of new mothers.

Most new mothers sing the same song. You know the words. It goes, “I had no idea how hard it would be. I’m too tired to even make a cup of tea.” Repeat.
Everyone struggles to keep their head above water. But what do you do if you feel like you’re sinking? Professor Marie-Paule Austin is working as a lifesaver for women who are in danger of going under. She’s the Chair of Perinatal Mental Health at the University of New South Wales and runs the Mother and Baby Unit at St John of God Health Care in Burwood — and she is there for you.
In 2012, a Victorian woman suffering from postnatal depression killed one of her infant twin daughters and left the other brain-damaged. It is Marie-Paule’s mission to support women through their darkest hours so that they never feel pushed to such desperate, tragic acts.
Depressed women have a real handicap in the daily business of being a mum.
“Depression affects our motivation, our ability to think clearly, to make decisions, and to organise ourselves,” says Marie-Paule. “It reduces energy levels, can impact on sleep and appetite, and is often associated with increased anxiety. It can include low self esteem, a sense of hopelessness, and thoughts that life’s not worth living. All of those symptoms put together mean that if somebody suffers with a significant depressive episode, their ability to function day-to-day will be significantly impacted.”

“If the mother is isolated and there’s no one else to take over for a while, then that child is more at risk of what we call insecure attachment patterns.”

Caring for baby
“Depressed women have difficulty maintaining a routine with the baby. We’ve seen mums who just can’t remember when they last fed the baby or if they put enough spoonfuls in the formula. So in that sense the mother is not able to tend as well in a practical way to the baby.”

Bonding with baby
“What we find in most cases is that, even if a mother is able to provide the practical, day-to-day stuff — like feeding at regular intervals, settling the baby and so forth — she’ll more likely be affected in her ability to emotionally care for the baby.
“If she’s totally preoccupied with very negative thought patterns, she can’t be in the moment, picking up Baby’s cues. Babies are very communicative, right from the start. They don’t have verbal skills, but they’re doing all sorts of things to catch Mum’s attention and begin that lovely emotional bonding relationship that they need to develop with their primary carer.
“If Mum’s not able to attend to the much more subtle stuff, then the baby will, over time, learn not to expect that from Mum and will start to look for that from other key caregivers. That’s if the mother’s lucky enough to have one of her parents or in-laws or a partner who can give Baby that emotional input. But these days it’s very often the mother at home on her own with the baby. It’s very isolating. And that will impact on the gradual process of bonding and attachment that develops in the first year or two of the child’s life.”

“If she’s totally preoccupied with very negative thought patterns, she can’t be in the moment, picking up Baby’s cues.”

Baby’s future mental health
“If the mother is isolated and there’s no one else to take over for a while, then that child is more at risk of what we call insecure attachment patterns. In the more vulnerable, less resilient offspring, that may translate into an increased risk for their own mental health in future, and their own capacity to engage in meaningful, committed relationships. So depression can definitely have a trans-generational impact.”

Do you need help or a good zzzz?
Most of us will cheerfully admit that our beloved babies drive us crazy from time to time. So how do we differentiate between serious depression and just feeling overtired and stressed out?
Marie-Paule says, “Even clinicians don’t always know the first time, because sleep deprivation can send some people literally crazy. If you sleep-deprive someone and isolate them, in some cases they can become psychotic.
“Sleep-deprivation is inevitable with a newborn, even in the best circumstances. So we admit the mother and the baby to a Mother–Baby Unit, such as the one we have here in Sydney. We give Mum a period of time where she can catch up on sleep. Sometimes that’s all she needs.
“If we’re concerned about depression, what you’re looking for are some key features, like a sense of not being able to enjoy anything. So, even if someone got a good enough sleep and you’d think they’d have a bit more energy to enjoy things, they don’t. They can’t see any point; they can’t see any future. If there’s no sense of hope, no capacity to enjoy any aspect of their life, then we’re much more likely to think that this could be an episode of depression rather than sleep deprivation or anxiety with a new or unsettled baby.

“If she’s totally preoccupied with very negative thought patterns, she can’t be in the moment, picking up Baby’s cues.”

“At the Mother–Baby Unit, about 30 to 40 percent of the babies we see are actually quite unsettled. So we help with the routine, those mother-craft skills that many first-time mums lack — settling and feeding, things that create high levels of anxiety.
“We take pregnant and postnatal mums, with their babies up to one year of age, from across the whole Eastern States. Anyone who thinks that they or a relative might need help can ring St John of God Burwood Hospital on 02 9715 9200 for advice.”