AN INTRODUCTION TO MENTAL HEALTH FOR MOTHERS
Last Sunday, as I was getting ready to go out for some grocery shopping, my friend Shumi (name changed) called. Although I would have ignored a call from any other person, I knew I couldn’t ignore her call. I decided to take the call and promise her a call back once I got back home. But, I couldn’t do that; she was sobbing incessantly on the other side. So, I decided to postpone my shopping.
In between her sobs, Shumi explained her reason for distress; she hated being a mother and felt like giving everything up. I was aware that being a new mom had taken a toll on her health – both physically and mentally.
She had been suffering from depression and anxiety for a pretty long time, even before her marriage. With the pregnancy and child-birth and also an unhappy marriage, her mental health had taken a downward spiral.
Unfortunately, neither her husband nor any other family member understands her problem. As I had been close to her for quite some time now and had been a witness to her ‘journey through hell’ (as she calls it), I couldn’t help but feel sad, distressed, and at the same time, helpless.
I even tried to explain her situation to her husband, but he, like those men who are ignorant about the effects of poor mental health, discarded my words and even went on to call her ‘mad’!
Ever since that day, he made it more difficult for her – treating her worse than before. Shumi feared that her husband would leave her (she had overheard a discussion between her husband and his mother). I couldn’t help feeling guilty for taking up the subject with her husband.
And I also couldn’t help wonder why there was so little awareness about such an important subject? Why didn’t Shumi’s parents become more aware and helped her through it? I am sure there had been signs.
It frustrates me to no end that another beautiful soul, with so much potential, is being wasted by a disease that nobody wants to take seriously.
Each one of us, be it a man or woman, suffer from mental health issues: even those who claim they don’t. However, for some, the issues become so grave due to denial or due to lack of treatment, that they turn into mental disorders.
We need to understand the basics of mental health to have a clear idea about the problem.
In this article, I have tried to give you a brief idea about what we are dealing in, as a society.
Although this article is focused on mothers, I am sure, the topics that I am going to cover in this article and the subsequent ones, they will be able to educate everyone irrespective of their gender or social standing.
We have to start this journey of awareness with the understanding that mental health is essential for healthy living and our proper functioning. In fact, with the challenges of the modern world, mental health has become the deciding factor for our survival.
What is mental health?
Before I start defining what mental health is, let me quote the definition of HEALTH provided by the World Health Organisation (WHO). It states that :
“Health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
Thus, WHO attributes health to the well-being in those three mentioned areas and not just the absence of disease or infirmity. This definition also points out, the absence of one of the factors will result in our ill-health, as each is inter-dependant.
Now, as it has been established that mental health is one of the important contributors to good health, let us understand what we mean by mental health.
Our emotional, psychological, and social well-being are the factors that comprise mental health. Mental health affects how we think, what we feel, and how we act as a result. During our lifetime, our mental health determines our well-being.
Good mental health will help us:
- deal with the stressful situation easily,
- help us connect and interact with other people easily
- Contribute positively to our social well-being to a large extent.
- helps us make the right decisions,
- helps us cope with the struggles of life, and,
- Contribute greatly to every area of our lives.
People associate mental health issues with being mad or a sign of infirmity. And that is the starting point of the problem.
Just like we work towards better physical health, we must take care of our mental health with equal dedication. Without a healthy mind, our physical health will not sustain us.
Mental health is dependent on 3 main factors. They are:
- Biological factors
- Negative life experiences
- A history of mental health issues
The statistics for mental health disorders paint quite a grim picture. With only cases that are reported available for assimilation, the real picture may be quite different.
According to WHO reports in 2001, 1 person out of 4 people suffered from mental illness, among which women outscored men. Almost 20years later, the ratio has surely seen a drastic change.
A study called the Global Burden of Disease conducted in 2017 by The Institute for the Health Metrics and Evaluation, an independent global health research centre at the University of Washington, reported that almost 11%of the global population was estimated to be suffering from some mental disorder, among which 9.3% were male and 11.9% were females.
It is quite evident that women are more prone to mental illness than men.
The difference between men and women in regards to mental health is quite inherent, due to many factors. To understand more, do read Gender Inequality in Mental Health.
What the data also shows is that mental illnesses are common everywhere. Improving awareness and availability of treatment should be given the utmost importance to improve mental health globally.
Types of Mental Illnesses
Mental health problems are various. However, they may have similar symptoms. One or more of the illnesses can occur at the same time, as well. Diagnoses of mental illness can be difficult based on the symptoms, as different people can experience different things for the same illness.
The different types of mental illnesses have been listed below:
• Anxiety disorders
• Eating disorders
• Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
• Personality disorders
• Bi-polar disorders
• Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
• Addiction disorders
• Stress response syndromes
• Dissociative disorders
• Factitious disorders
• Sexual and gender disorders
• Somatic symptom disorders
• Tic disorders
Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are sometimes classified as mental illnesses as they involve the brain.
The above list may seem quite overwhelming, but it only goes on to show how our brain is vulnerable to the different factors of mental illness. And it also makes us realize why awareness and diagnosis and subsequent treatment is the need of the hour.
How to spot early signs of mental illness?
Mental ill-health is easily detectable. To know whether you or any other person is suffering from any form of mental illness, look for the presence of one or more of the following feelings or behaviors:
- Being lethargic
- Losing interest in food
- Any form of substance abuse
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Finding it difficult to do daily activities
- Relationships being affected due to severe mood swings
- Experiencing sudden and unexplained body aches
- Interacting less with other people
- Staying away from usual activities
- Feeling helpless
- Burdened by an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness
- Getting into unnecessary arguments or fights with others.
- Prone to self-harm
- Fear or suspiciousness of others
- The feeling of being disconnected from oneself or one’s surroundings
- Continuously feeling confused, forgetful, upset, worried, or scared for no apparent reason
- Suddenly hearing voices
- Prone to believing in things that may not be true
- Thoughts and memories being the cause of constant mental pain.
- Heightened sensitivity to sights, sounds, smells, or touch; avoidance of over-stimulating situations
- Feeling nervous
These are the symptoms to look out for. Being aware of these symptoms will help us start the treatment early on and thus preventing further aggravation.
Importance of mental health to mothers
In the earlier part of the article, I have talked about mental health in general terms. Now, I want to draw the focus on mothers and why it is important.
Everything a child goes through, both mentally and physically, since birth, is mainly dependent on the mental health of the mother, as she is the primary caregiver. Thus, her mental well-being is of the utmost importance.
Depression in mothers during pregnancy and after the birth of her child is the most common mental illness for women.
Hormonal, genetic, and environmental factors are the main causes of prenatal and post-partum depression.
The depression needs to be treated immediately so that poor nutrition and the development of unhealthy behaviours like drinking and smoking can be avoided. Poor nutrition and unhealthy behaviours can result in low birth weight, premature birth, and developmental problems for the baby.
If I take the case of my friend Shumi, her family’s support towards her mental well-being could have contributed to the baby’s well-being as well. Her husband should have been more proactive about her well-being. Unfortunately, that did not happen, and Shumi has to suffer alone.
In most families, after a baby is born, the family is usually overjoyed by its arrival. With all the focus on the baby, they forget that a mother had gone through a lot of physical and mental stress and needs to be taken care of, as well. Not only does she need to regain her strength, but needs support dealing with post-partum depression. Untreated depression can have lasting effects on both the mother and the child.
Psychotherapy, counseling, and medication may create a different experience for the mother and the baby.
To know more about this, do read Why Mental Health Is Of Utmost Importance To Mothers.
In Shumi’s case, she badly needs medical attention. But, I realized, expecting support from her family is out of the question. In fact, her husband may create more trouble for her.
Unless her family realizes the importance of therapy, Shumi will continue to suffer.
In conclusion, I want to say that awareness about this mammoth size health problem is the need of the hour. And then, taking the necessary steps can go a long way in creating a beautiful world for the children.
Being a mother myself, I had my share of struggles. Watching Shumi go through her struggle makes me feel so helpless. I can only help her if she takes a determined decision to take a step towards healing.
Like her, mothers, irrespective of their country or social standing, suffer from mental illnesses. However, the symptoms and the capacity to deal with it may differ. But, those who are incapable of doing it should not be discriminated against or judged. Rather they should be supported more, and steps should be taken to empower them. Mentally empowering the mothers would result in creating physically and mentally healthy children.
Wouldn’t that create a beautiful world for the generations to come?