As a savvy consumer of media and information, you’ve more than likely heard of postpartum depression (PPD) and probably have a general idea of what maternal mental health entails. However, despite the gradually changing attitudes about maternal mental health, some common misconceptions persist. Here are a few things that many people get wrong about perinatal mental health.
Myth # 1: Maternal mental health is another way of saying Postpartum Depression…
Well, yes and no. PPD is one of the Perinatal Mental Health disorders (PMADs) that can arise, but Maternal Mental Health doesn’t just cover disorders. It covers any of the wide array of clinically diagnosable AS WELL AS less specific challenges that women can experience during pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum, and even in general throughout their reproductive years and lives as mothers. It can include difficulties with anxiety and depression, among other disorders, as well as general signs of discomfort and distress with adjusting to the transition and demands of motherhood. Women can experience numerous mental health conditions during pregnancy and after delivery. Why is it important to know this? Many women who experience PMADs will know they’re not well but assume that they don’t have a “real” problem because they may not feel classic symptoms of depression or anxiety, which leaves them feeling unsure of what to do and how to ask for help, if at all. Further, not all maternal mental health struggles rise to a diagnostic level. Just because a new mother isn’t checking off lists of symptoms doesn’t mean that her life and her experience isn’t being dramatically impacted by her own maternal mental health challenges.
Myth # 2: It’s rare
While many pregnant women and new mothers can experience some mood changes during pregnancy and after childbirth, according to Postpartum Support International, as many as 1 in 7 mothers experience symptoms of depression and/or anxiety during pregnancy or in the postpartum period. PMADs (Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders) are the most common complication of childbirth. It may be hard to believe, because often we hear about other issues of pregnancy and early motherhood. We’ve probably all heard of pregnancy cravings, swollen ankles and have brushed off “hormones” at some point or another. We all know new moms are tired because new babies aren’t usually great sleepers. Who among us can’t relate to being tired? We see it as a badge of honor. Who feels that they’re going to be shamed or stigmatized for being tired? But when the subject becomes more about mental health, people often aren’t as willing to admit to their struggles for fear of being judged, or worse. So, the idea that maternal mental health challenges and PMADs are uncommon proliferates.
Myth # 3: It’s a woman problem
It’s Maternal Mental Health, after all. While this term is helpful as an encompassing umbrella for the variety of experiences that pregnant and new moms can have, it has one flaw; it seems to suggest that it only affects women. Specifically, there is an assumption that it only affects women who are mothers. What about women who are pregnant? Women who’ve experienced pregnancy loss? Women who are the non-birth partner in a same-sex relationship? And what about babies? Fathers? Other close family? The American Academy of Pediatrics has noted that maternal mental health affects the whole family. For instance, if maternal depression is left untreated, there can be challenges with bonding and the formation of healthy attachment with the baby. It can negatively impact and impair judgment and ability to care for baby. It can put immense strain on partner relationships and relationships with important others, thereby possibly contributing to the gradual erosion of family and social support, which in turn can exacerbate maternal mental health problems. The idea that maternal mental health is a woman’s, and specifically, only a mother’s problem, is simply untrue. And the sooner that we can dispel this notion for more people, the sooner we can all work toward helping women, mothers, fathers, babies and families.
The good news is that no matter what you or a loved one are going through, help is available. Contact us to learn more about how we can help support you.