According to recent statistics, somewhere between 10% and 20% of women suffer from ‘perinatal’ mental health issues at some point in their pregnancy, or within the first twelve months of giving birth. Similarly, according to CFAH.org, women have a lifetime PTSD prevalence rate of 9.7%, compared to 3.6% in men. You may have heard of conditions such as ‘Post-Natal Depression’, but there are a number of others that fall within the remit of perinatal mental health, including anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar and eating disorders. If you are worried that your partner is suffering from maternal mental health problems, here is some advice on how to move forward.
What are the symptoms of maternal mental health issues?
The symptoms associated with maternal mental health issues can vary from person to person, but usually, it will be clear that your partner is acting differently than what you would consider ‘normal’. She may be quiet and withdrawn when usually chatty and animated, or she may lose her temper quickly, be more emotional than usual, or appear to be fretting over things which you consider insignificant. The most commonly diagnosed maternal mental health conditions include depression, anxiety, OCD, psychosis, PTSD, and eating disorders. These may appear out of the blue for the first time or maybe returning conditions that your partner previously suffered from in the past.
The link between trauma, grief, and maternal mental health
Whilst in many cases, there is no specific trigger associated with the onset of maternal mental health problems, sometimes they are caused by a traumatic experience, such as complications occurring during pregnancy or birth, birth-related injuries, miscarriage, stillbirth, or serious birth defects. Mothers have a tendency to feel responsible for many pregnancies and child-related situations which are often beyond their control and this extends to the examples mentioned above. Feelings of guilt are often common, along with the assumption that it must have been something they did or didn’t do that caused the trauma to occur. When faced with the loss of a child, the grief can often become unbearable and can spread to other relationships, including affecting intimacy with their partner or their ability to enjoy family time with their existing children. As a father observing this, it can be particularly stressful to witness and it is easy to feel helpless.
Helping to overcome maternal mental health problems
It is helpful to remember that for most women suffering from maternal mental health issues, the symptoms are usually temporary and respond well to treatment, particularly when identified early. The most common treatments tend to be focused on talk-based therapy or psychotherapy, with medication used in some circumstances to help curb particularly troublesome symptoms. When people are suffering from mental health problems, they are likely to be scared and frightened by what their mind is telling them and may be worried about what others will think if they find out. It is important to reassure your partner that the way they are feeling and thinking is not a true representation of themselves. Helping them to feel it is safe to express their feelings openly is the first step toward getting her on the road to recovery.
Booking in with a GP or their health worker is very important to help ensure the correct diagnosis, but there are several charities that can offer additional advice and support. These include the Birth Trauma Association, SANDS, and the The Fatherhood Institute to name just a few, but there are a great many more.
The importance of self-care
It is important to make sure that you take care of yourself, as you do not want to risk affecting your own emotional or physical health. Caring for a partner who is suffering from mental health problems can be extremely stressful and exhausting, particularly when you also have to maintain a stable family life and uphold your work commitments. Eating and sleeping well, getting regular exercise and keeping your stress levels in check at work are all ways in which you can ensure your health doesn’t suffer, as well as openly accepting any help and support offered by family and friends.
Rewinding your relationship
Mental health problems can often place great pressure on couples, as it can affect everything from intimacy to social activities, sleep, work and childcare. If you feel that your relationship is reaching a breaking point and are worried about the prospect of separation or divorce, it could be time to consider relationship counseling to help you both to navigate through this difficult time. More information is available from the charity Relate, which specializes in relationship advice and support. If ultimately, you decide that your relationship cannot be salvaged, be sure to seek out the services of specialist family lawyers who can provide a compassionate and empathetic approach to your case and can take into account the presence of mental health problems in the proceedings.
By Henry Brookman, Brookman Solicitors
About the Author
Henry Brookman is a divorce solicitor and senior partner at Brookman, a highly experienced family law firm, with expertise in a full range of family legal matters including divorce in the UK and internationally, complex financial issues, property settlements and children’s matters. Brookman is ranked by the Legal 500 and has been awarded the Law Society’s quality mark, Lexcel. For more information visit www.brookman.co.uk.