Maternal Mental Health Matters

Dr. Tina Mistry, a British Clinical Psychologist, knows all too well about maternal mental health. “I struggled with low mood, but I was never diagnosed,” says the mother of two.

“I was tearful, found it difficult to separate from my child, had thoughts of not being a good enough mum and had difficulty connecting to my family and in-laws.”

Dr. Mistry says past issues with her father resurfaced too. “These erupt when we are establishing new relationships like becoming a mother.”

She says the best way she coped was to acknowledge her distress rather than ignoring it and accepting support from friends and family even when she wanted to disconnect.

Dr. Mistry is sharing her tips with us to help pinpoint how to identify a mother who may need a boost with her mental health.

Dr. Tina Mistry as a baby with her grandmother

Maternal mental begins the minute you become pregnant. Changes happen not only physically and biologically, but also psychologically.

Some pregnant South Asian women are asked to adhere to specific diets, restrict travel and not wash their hair for cultural and religious reasons. Some also have a Godh bharai, Shrimant or Khoro-ceremonies to bless the unborn child and parents to be. Even though these can be joyful experiences, restrictions placed on pregnant mothers can impact their mental well-being.

How were you feeling when you became pregnant? What rules were you expected to follow? How did it make you feel? Did you acknowledge these changes and were you able to talk to others about it?

There can be an emotional impact of giving birth and becoming a parent. Talking about the birth, feels somewhat of a taboo, yet it can have such a huge impact on a mothers psychological well-being and attachment to her baby.

Mental health practitioners find it difficult to detect the severity of the issues South Asian women may face, as there is reluctance to seek support due to the stigma and possible family shame.

Traditionally South Asian communities used taiyas (doulas) who supported women during birth. Having a support system around you is helpful. How much did you plan for the emotional or psychological aspects of birth?

We need to start talking so that its easier to spot potential prenatal anxiety, depression or tokophobia (fear of birth).

We must acknowledge that the perinatal period from pregnancy to post birth is a critical time frame when a woman is vulnerable to developing psychological issues. The severity ranges and it is normal to experience some “baby blues,” which is a drop in hormones within the first four weeks of giving birth. But if the following signs persist, you should seek help:

  • Very low mood or severe mood fluctuations

  • Excessive crying, irritability and anger

  • Difficulty bonding with baby

  • Withdrawing from family and friends

When we feel low or worried we might find that our appetite is affected by either eating more or less than usual. Sleeping patterns may also change leaving us feeling really tired and lacking energy.

As new parents its normal to doubt your parenting skills, but if your thoughts become consuming and interrupt daily life then its time to reach out for support. Some women may think they are not a good mother, feel hopeless, worthless, shame, guilt or inadequate. You may notice difficulty in concentrating, making decisions, thinking of harming yourself or your baby or have recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.

Just because you seek professional help, does not mean that you aren’t good enough or that your children will be taken away.

The consequences for untreated support can impact you and your child.

Let’s keep the dialogue about South Asian maternal mental health open and honest.

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