Updated: January 11, 2021 6:36:46 pm
By Geetika Sasan Bhandari
The only good thing to come out of this pandemic is that it has brought mental health issues and discussions out of the closet.
Finally, it’s OK to not be OK.
For years, we have brushed feelings of anxiety and depression under the carpet, refusing to seek help, but during the lockdown, the need to articulate and seek help for mental well-being finally came to the fore. I think all of us became a little more sensitive, kinder, and more forthcoming with our time and words to those that needed it.
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However, we are sometimes kinder and more forgiving of others but less sensitive to the people closest to us—our near and dear ones, and it’s high time that changes.
Here’s a small example: I was reading about a recent study that points to the fact that post-partum depression (PPD) can last far longer than we think—up to three years. My 14-year-old daughter was sitting next to me and asked me what it was about. When I explained, her instinctive reaction was, “Why would you be depressed when you have a cute little baby, your own baby, to look after?”
And that exactly, is the point.
Most people around us, especially our family and friends, not only fail to recognize this as a mental health problem, they are also dismissive of it. New mothers then, have a double-edged sword to deal with—changes in their body, fluctuating hormones and emotions, possible post-birth health issues, a new unpredictable life to look after, and on the other side, the need to look radiant and happy, even if they are going through emotional hell.
The study corroborates this: The National Institutes of Health (US) study of 5,000 women found that approximately 1 in 4 experienced high levels of depressive symptoms at some point in the three years after giving birth. The rest of the women experienced low levels of depression throughout the three-year span.
Working moms—full-time or otherwise—may have it worse. Coupled with everything else, they may be experiencing stress about their careers, about whether they will find professionally-run creches or have good support at home to leave their baby with, or how they will cope with the guilt as the maternity leave comes to a close. Fathers—in most households—don’t have life-altering, guilt-inducing choices to make, and this emotional burden tends to fall on moms. And it goes on—when moms have to travel for work, stay back for late meetings, attend events on weekends, or miss a Parent Teacher meeting—and this new study shines light on exactly this. PPD is not just experienced soon after giving birth; it may be more long-lasting than earlier thought.
“These long-term data are key to improving our understanding of mom’s mental health, which we know is critical to her child’s well-being and development, says Dr. Diane Putnick, the primary author of the study, which was conducted at NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), and appeared in the journal Pediatrics. “Our study indicates that six months may not be long enough to gauge depressive symptoms.”
I remember actor and emcee Mandira Bedi was one of the first few Indian celebrities to talk about PPD openly, when she had her son Vir in 2011. Her recommendation was that people should not ignore it. But new moms are in such a roller-coaster—a cocktail of sleeplessness, childcare, plummeting levels of oestrogen and progesterone et al—that it sometimes needs the partner or someone else in the family to realise this, and nudge the mom or actively support her in seeking help.
What’s a possible solution?
According to nih.gov, “The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that paediatricians screen mothers for post-partum depression at regular visits at one, two, four and six months after childbirth. Researchers of the study identified four trajectories of postpartum depressive symptoms and the factors that may increase a woman’s risk for elevated symptoms.”
During the first few weeks and months, it is a fact that a new mom feels closer to her paediatrician than anyone else, and the doctor would easily be able to ask a few questions to gauge if she is suffering from PPD, and subsequently refer her to a specialist. Also, if the recommendation comes from the doctor, it is far more likely to garner support within the family, especially in families where it may still be a taboo topic. While the woman’s mental health should be a priority for every family, whether she is a mom or not, all of us know that in many families, this will be given importance only when it is positioned as having a direct bearing on the child.
And while the study found that women with underlying conditions, such as mood disorders and/or gestational diabetes, were more likely to have higher levels of depressive symptoms that persisted throughout the period of the study, the incidence of PPD goes beyond that spectrum. So, just as we have found it in ourselves to understand that everyone faces anxiety, some to a greater degree than others, I hope we can also understand that while we may love that bonny, cherubic baby in our arms, we can also be suffering from PPD at the same time, and that doesn’t make us any less a mother. More than anyone else, sometimes it is us, moms ourselves, who may not have had PPD, and who are more harsh, more judging of others.
It’s not a competition. Every mom’s journey is different, and the more we’re supportive of this, the stronger our tribe shall be.
(The writer is former Editor of Child, and has recently launched a parenting platform called Let’s Raise Good Kids. She has two kids)
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