This week, 4/29-5/3/2019 is recognized as Maternal Mental Health Awareness week. Social media shares have included a look at individual experiences, education, common symptoms, the lack of care and addressing the many myths that motherhood can hold.
How do we reduce the statistics from 1 in 5 (or 1 in 7, depending on what end of the estimates you’re using) women experiencing mental illness?
We propose starting with the following:
- Every day conversation: At home, with friends, by medical providers. It is commonplace to hear conversation on preventing a cold or ways to combat and treat the flu; we propose the same for addressing mental health. Just as we have a state of physical health, we all have a state of mental health; this can fluctuate. We can experience wellness and we can experience times of illness. There’s no value in blame and shame. Mental health IS health.
- Education from medical providers should include the ways mental illness can show up: in daily functioning, in work/school performance, in social and family relationships, in physical illness. Parents need to understand the signs/symptoms of mental illness.
- Regular mental health check-ups. Establish a relationship with a licensed mental health professional as your primary care provider for your mental health. Go in for a check-up at least once/year.
- Discussion during pre-natal education: each pre-natal educator (we include OBGYN and Midwifery here as well) can equip their “students/patients” for more successful outcomes by building in accurate information and intentional discussion on mental health as related to pregnancy and parenthood and WHERE to find help.
- Medical providers: make sure to ask each woman at least once during pregnancy and following delivery about the state of her mental health. Preempt the conversation or screening form with something like, “mental health complications are very common during this time and have nothing to do with how good of a Mom you are. We ask each Mom how she is doing with this significant event of pregnancy and motherhood; how are you doing?”
- You must also ask spouse/partner. Asking Mom how she is doing is only half of the story. The health of Dad is equally important to healthy outcomes of the child and family.
- Building healthy relationships. Regular (in person- unplug from technology) social interaction with those who you have healthy relationships with is important across the life span. We find this to be particularly true during the journey of parenthood.
- The quadfecta (new word for us, too- means four important things) of self care: balanced nutrition, building in exercise, protecting healthy sleep hygiene and attending to meaningful relationships including spirituality. At all times across the lifespan, the quality and presence of these areas can affect the presence and duration of illness. They are the basic areas of self-care.