Why our approach to perinatal mental health is just plain wrong

For the first time in my life, at 25 weeks pregnant, I’ve found myself suffering with anxiety-induced depression. This was not an easy thing for me to admit to and not something that I was able to label myself until I finally swallowed my pride and went to the doctor for help.

I have good days and bad. On a good day, I look back at a low period and almost laugh at how feeble I was being. It shocks me that I have struggled to cope with the most menial of tasks. On a bad day, there feels like there’s no way out. Completely out of the blue, a wave of sadness hits me and I find myself howling uncontrollably no matter where I am or who I’m with (the guy at the carwash the other day looked particularly concerned). All at once, I feel inadequate and like I’m failing as a mum to my toddler and as a mum-to-be to the new baby. My best is never good enough and I feel like I’ll never be happy again. Eventually these feelings subside and I feel like I’m almost back to my old self.

Having never experienced feelings like this before, it took me a while to work out if these were ‘normal’ hormonal pregnancy feelings, or something more. But when I was up in the night for what felt like the millionth night in a row, obsessing about the baby dying, the house being burgled and the car getting ticketed for being on double-yellows, I knew I needed to speak to someone.

This was completely new territory for me. Admitting to a doctor that I wasn’t coping felt strange and unnerving; I was letting someone into my weird little world, and I wasn’t sure how they’d react.

Thankfully, he was sympathetic and understanding, and I was referred for counselling. That was two months ago, and that’s were things pretty much are today.

Because the waiting list for mental health support is apparently worse than it has ever been before, the doctor recommended I start on anti-depressants immediately to help me cope whilst I wait for counselling.

I was a bit taken aback by this. I’ve never needed to take anti-depressants before, and having read the potential side-effects, although risks are minimal, I wasn’t happy taking the pills whilst pregnant.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not ‘anti’ anti-depressants. In fact, were I not pregnant, I’d have started taking them there and then. They have been literal life-savers for many people I know.

Even in my anxiety-riddled mind, I can see that this is a totally backwards way of addressing perinatal mental health concerns. Doctors are forced to rely on the prescribing of anti-depressants as an interim solution because access to counsellors is increasingly hard to come by.

Given that waiting lists are increasing, and they’re increasing for mums and mums-to-be, surely this is reaching crisis-proportions and much more needs to be done to address this?

One in 10 women experience some sort of mental illness during pregnancy or within the first year of giving birth. Devastatingly, suicide is one of the leading causes of death for new mums and mums-to-be. These are incredibly vulnerable women who are already dealing with an insurmountable amount of pressure and responsibility, and they’re not getting the help and support they need. Instead, they’re being fobbed off with pills to keep them on an even keel. This has huge ramifications for them and the families they’re caring for.

Personally, I feel that just talking to someone who isn’t a friend or family member would be a huge step forward for me, and a huge weight off my shoulders. I need someone to help me make sense of these thoughts and feelings whirring around in my head. And I want to be able to do this before having to rely on medication. For tired, anxious, pregnant mothers, surely this should be the bare minimum we can expect in terms of support?

Presently, I’m on three separate waiting lists for perinatal counselling, and I’ve been waiting for three months to speak to someone. I’m still not taking the anti-depressants but will reconsider this once I’ve spoken to a councillor.

Have you or your partner ever suffered with perinatal mental health issues? What is provision of care like in your area? I’ve found this website particularly useful in understanding what additional support is out there for expecting mothers and what the current state of support is like across the UK.

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