According to the World Health Organization (WHO), suicide is the leading cause of maternal death in developed countries. A woman’s mental state of mind can have adverse affects not only on herself but also the unborn baby. Maternal mental health is a topic not widely spoken about when it comes to women’s health during pregnancy and after childbirth.
Overall the topic of mental health is one that has gained more mainstream media attention over the last few years.
But Maternal Mental health doesn’t often get the attention needed. We usually hear of the term ‘postpartum depression’ after women have babies and that’s the extent of what many people are aware of. Even that doesn’t seem to garner much attention. I remember Model/Actor Brooke Shields spoke on that issue through her experience many years ago in an effort to shed light on the issue. Many women are ashamed to admit they experience it after giving birth.
The fact is mental health issues in women during pregnancy and after childbirth are actually quite common.
In higher income countries that keep track of statistics related to maternal mental health, it’s reported that 10% of pregnant women and 15% of those who have already given birth suffer from depression or anxiety. These numbers are much more difficult to track in countries with average low-middle income economies. In those countries it’s said that 85% don’t collect these stats. However based on the few studies that do exist, it seems that lower income countries also see numbers in common perinatal mental disorders (CPMDs). The numbers suggest that 15% of women during pregnancy suffer from CPMDs and 19.8% after childbirth (WHO stats). Some of the factors in these countries involve issues that women tend to experience at higher rates in those countries; sub-standard living conditions, poor health, low economic status, violence in relationships and having a partner that is lacking in empathy. In Africa countries including Nigeria, Ethiopia, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe have reported stats on these issues.
In low-income settings, where the child is extremely dependent on the mother, it can have serious effects when the mother herself is suffering from any mental health issues. According to research reported on postnatal depression as it relates to infant growth and development in low income countries, maternal depression is closely related to low birth weight and under-nutrition in the child.
The WHO and the United Nations Population Fund are working together to implement programs that would be integrated into existing programs in maternal health care. These include providing training to nurses and health care aids in being better able to identify women who suffer from mental health issues. It would also provide information on counselling and other resources to help women in need.
It’s important that family and friends are also supportive of women suffering from mental issues during pregnancy and after childbirth. When a woman feels support of loved ones it certainly makes a difference in how she manages her day to day challenges.
Resources: WHO, Improving Maternal Mental Health, WHO Interventions for common Perinatal Mental Disorders