Infant mental health is critically affected by the mothers mental state-if she is functioning poorly, there are negative consequences for her child’s social, emotional, cognitive and physical development. Unfortunately there are no official statistics for our country but the World Health Organisation (WHO) (1) statistics show that maternal mental health disorders are common in all corners of our world: one to two in ten women (10-20%) in developed countries and two to three (20-30%) in developing countries, have a significant mental health disorder, primarily depression. It should be noted that the recent social and economic developments in our country do not permit us to be classified in the ‘developed countries’ with all that that entails for public and mental health. Besides the same WHO report states that “social factors are a major cause of mental health problems in pregnant women and new mothers’.
Mental health is not simply the absence of any apparent mental disorder; but a full consciousness state, emotional and social well-being, where the human person is in control of their desires, decisions, operations and relations with others. Respectively, maternal mental health, is concerned with the emotional consciousness, behavioural integrity and well-being of women during pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period. Although usually motherhood is a positive integration experience, for some women it is associated with emotional problems, poor health and even the experience of death.
The stigma and lack of knowledge about maternal mental health indeed is tragic, and women are suffering in silence over a successfully treatable mood disorder. Recent research (2) in Greece has revealed a:
- Very strong stigmatisation of mental illness;
- Serious lack of knowledge of primary health care providers on maternal mental health and screening methods;
- Lack of interest in addressing maternal mental health issues within the primary national health system.
Despite the lack of community recognition that maternal mood disorders even exist, research conducted in Crete reveals that during pregnancy 16.7% experience depression, and 13% postpartum depression (3). So we know for certain that there are pregnant women and new mothers who are affected by mood and anxiety disorders. There is no data to tell us whether they are seeking treatment or not, so we are unsure of what is going on with these women, their infants and their family.
The promising news is that maternal mental disorders are treatable yet many pregnant women and new parents shy away from asking for support. Effective interventions can be delivered even by well-trained non-specialist health providers, so there is really no need to suffer in silence.
According to the WHO, now in most developed countries, suicide is the leading cause of maternal death in the perinatal period. This is why it is so important that we end the silence and break the stigma attached to womens mental health. If we can help a mother improve the state of her psychology, we can change a child’s’ life and subsequently our communities.
Agapidaki et al.:Pediatricians and health visitors views towards detection and management of maternal depression in the context of a weak primary health care system: a qualitative study. BMC Psychiatry, 2014, 14:108
Koutra, K. et al. (2013). Antenatal and postnatal maternal mental health as determinants of infant neurodevelopment at 18 months of age in a mother-child cohort (Rhea Study) in Crete Greece. Social Psychiatry & Psychiatric Epidemiology, Vol/ 48, Issue 8, pp. 1335-1345