‘I had perinatal mental illness like so many new mums,’ says TV presenter Anna Williamson29th Apr 19 | Lifestyle
To mark Maternal Mental Health Matters Awareness Week, the Celebs Go Dating star talks frankly about struggling as a new mum.
More than one in 10 women will develop a mental illness during the perinatal period of pregnancy and the year after birth. One of those women is TV presenter and Mind coach Anna Williamson.
Speaking out to mark the start of Maternal Mental Health Matters Awareness Week, mother-of-one Anna, 37, who’s written several books including Breaking Mum and Dad: The Insider’s Guide to Parenting Anxiety, says: “Maternal mental health is something I didn’t expect to pay so much attention to until I became pregnant and realised my previously-diagnosed anxiety disorder was going into free-fall.
“I was advised to come off anxiety medication ASAP by the GP – which with hindsight, and having since had expert specialist advice, was the wrong decision – which then led to perinatal anxiety and a fear of birth taking over what should have been a happy pregnancy.”
Williamson was given routine appointments for the physical side of pregnancy, one one for her mental health, but she says she was “good at putting on a brave face,” so here perinatal anxiety and depression went undetected until just after childbirth – then she needed immediate help for postnatal anxiety and PTSD.
“My advice to any women experiencing feelings of ‘blah’ in pregnancy, not particularly enjoying it, perhaps even hating it and feeling guilty for doing so, or having any feelings that just don’t feel ‘right’ – I implore you to not put a brave face on and battle through struggling. Tell your midwife and GP, and ask for extra support which is available.
“People aren’t mind readers so they can only be led by what you bravely tell them. No one will judge you or take your baby away, they will just want to support you in every way they can. Never suffer in silence.”
Consultant perinatal psychiatrist Alain Gregoire, chair of the MMHA, adds: “More than one in 10 women will develop a mental illness during pregnancy or in the year after birth, but we know that with the right support these women can get better. Awareness of different illnesses and their signs will go a long way to helping make a crucial early diagnosis and getting mothers the help they need to recover.”
5 types of perinatal mental illness to be aware of
Anna suffered from perinatal anxiety, depression and PTSD, and here those conditions, together with two of the other main perinatal mental illnesses, are outlined by the Maternal Mental Health Alliance (MMHA), whose member organisation Perinatal Mental Health Partnership UK (PMHPUK), organises Maternal Mental Health Matters Awareness Week.
Pregnancy and early motherhood are emotional times, which can make spotting the symptoms of depression more difficult. Simply put, if someone is feeling sad more than they’re feeling happy, it may be a sign of depression. Awareness of postnatal depression is growing, but few realise depression can affect around one in 10 women during pregnancy too.
For support, visit Tommys.
It’s natural to feel a little anxious during and after pregnancy with so many unknowns, but feeling anxious, worried or irritable most of the time and finding it difficult to relax may be a sign help is needed. Anxiety in pregnancy is very common, and more than one in 10 pregnant women will experience it.
For support, visit Mind.
3. Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
OCD is an anxiety disorder characterised by recurrent, unwelcome thoughts, images, ideas or doubts (obsessions) and rituals to suppress or neutralise distress or prevent the feared outcome (compulsions). There’s little research about perinatal OCD but recent studies suggest it’s more common at this time. Some people develop OCD for the first time either during pregnancy or afterwards, while others find pre-existing symptoms worsen.
For support, visit Maternal OCD.
4. Postpartum psychosis
Postpartum psychosis (PP) is a serious, but treatable, form of mental illness that usually occurs in the first few days or weeks after having a baby. Women with PP may experience delusions, hallucinations and lose touch with reality, although symptoms will vary from person to person. It’s believed to affect one to two in every 1,000 women.
For support, visit Action on Postpartum Psychosis.
5. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
According to recent research, about 30,000 women a year experience birth-related trauma in the UK. A traumatic birth can lead to symptoms of PTSD, which can include flashbacks, a sense of heightened anxiety, constantly feeling on the alert, and avoiding anything that reminds you of the trauma. Witnessing someone else’s trauma can also be problematic, so partners can experience PTSD too.
For support, visit the Birth Trauma Association.
PMHPUK says the first step to getting support is to talk to a GP, midwife or health visitor. Treatment for perinatal mental health problems will vary depending on symptoms, severity and what’s available locally, but can include self-help, talking therapies and medication.
© Press Association 2019