What is this quiet revolution in perinatal mental health?
Anyone who knows me will tell you I have a real fascination for the history of health and medicine, particularly when it comes to birth and maternal health. I love learning about common medical practices, beliefs and outcomes of yesteryear. Our health and living age has increased hugely as medical practice has evolved over the years and as the internet age has empowered many with information about mental health and wellbeing.
In the last 50 years epidemiology (the study and analysis of the distribution and determinants of health and disease conditions in defined populations – phew!) has made huge leaps in understanding common health issues and educating the public about them. It’s amazing to think that there was a time before ‘5 a day’ was common knowledge when now everyone is aware of the health benefits of including 5 pieces of fresh fruit or veg in their diet. The knowledge being implemented into people’s diets has made a huge difference to rates of cancer and heart disease.
There have been many revolutions in public health that have benefitted people’s physical health but less so for the public’s mental health. For many years as a society we believed that mental health was something that affected other people, something that the Time for Change campaign has challenged vigorously in recent years.
When thinking about ‘mental health’ many of us are still inclined to think of extreme scenarios of psychiatric wards, lives spent of anti depressants, and suicide, rather than acknowledging that our mental health is exactly the same as our physical health.
We all have one and we will all experience spells of good mental health and challenging times too.
The perinatal period, and even before conception, can present many challenging scenarios for men and women planning pregnancy and parenthood.
Difficult IVF journeys, miscarriages, unplanned pregnancy, tokophobia, birth trauma, poor postnatal care, difficult breastfeeding and sleep deprivation are difficult and sometimes traumatic experiences for many people. Often people carry these experiences with them through their parenting journey.
The trauma symptoms that they experience can cause havoc with their everyday lives. Re-experiencing traumatic perinatal events with symptoms such as nightmares, recurring thoughts about what happened running through the mind on loop and flashbacks. This can all take a toll on someone’s emotional wellbeing in the long term. Others might attempt to cope by avoiding all reminders and triggers of what happened. This can naturally isolate a person from friends and activities. The day to day anxiety, panic, hyper-vigilance, difficulty in concentrating and sleeping can all drag a person down into more serious mental illnesses if support isn’t sought.
The paradoxical truth is; as awful as many perinatal traumas are, and as debilitating as trauma symptoms are, treatment doesn’t need to be difficult, lengthy or painful.
The first step begins with an acknowledgement and validation of how difficult we sometimes find certain life events and traumas. The second step is recognising what trauma symptoms are and understanding how they are causing emotional pain and discomfort in our life now.
Release from trauma symptoms can provide a welcome space to feel calmer, more peaceful and relaxed for any person who has been suffering. From this more present state of mind, it is possible to begin considering more helpful, serving feelings, ways of responding and being.
My hope is that one day the connection between traumatic events and trauma symptoms leading to more serious mental health issues, if left unchecked, is common knowledge. I would love this knowledge to be taught in schools at an early age so that everyone understands the difference between what is a calm, happy state of mind and what is an anxious, fear driven state. And crucially how to take themselves from one state to another.
Making this knowledge as common as ‘5 a day’ will take quiet revolution in understanding perinatal mental health.
Are you in?
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