Happy May! The Mindr team is welcoming the flowers that have started to bloom and disavowing the allergies (and rain!) that come along with them. What you may not know about May is that it is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month. This awareness campaign is young, starting in 2016, with activists, clinicians, researchers, and other moms taking a stand to talk about an issue faced by so many women.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), as many as 1 in 5 new mothers experience some type of mood or anxiety disorder. In developing countries this number is even higher, where 15.6% of women during pregnancy and 20% of women after childbirth experience a mood disorder. It’s likely that these numbers are even greater than reported, as the WHO estimates that over 75% of these cases go undiagnosed. Sometimes these signs and symptoms don’t settle in immediately for new moms. In fact, many women do not experience symptoms for 12 months after childbirth. May is a time to elevate women’s stories, continue to advocate for scientific research on the topic, and normalize the notion that pregnancy and childbirth are crucial times to be dialed into the mental health of the mom.
The topic of maternal mental health was first introduced to the world stage with the adoption of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goal #5, Maternal Health, which included maternal mental health in the agenda for the years 2000-2015. Now, with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals for global progress by 2030, mental health and substance abuse are even more directly indicated in the health targets. World leaders have committed to “prevention and treatment of noncommunicable diseases, including behavioural, developmental and neurological disorders, which constitute a major challenge for sustainable development.”
Celebrities have also played a role in heightening awareness about maternal mental health. People at the top of their fields such as Serena Williams and Cardi B have opened up about their experiences battling postpartum depression with their first babies, while navigating demanding careers. Previously, the late Princess Diana brought the issue to the global stage in 1995, while talking about her own experience with the illness “which no one ever discusses.” In 2017 Sarah Michelle Gellar shared her prior experience with postpartum depression to help normalize this issue for other women. With readily available social media and digital news platforms, we also now have the opportunity to share the stories of women who may not have the same access or resources as these high profile women.
Beyond awareness, our hope is that we can reduce incidences of postpartum depression and other mental illnesses through public and corporate policies. Multiple studies like this and this acknowledge that longer maternity leaves are best for children’s health, but go further to conclude that longer maternity leaves actually lower the risk of postpartum depression and other mental and physical health risks. These studies argue that having longer paid leaves reduce the financial burden and the guilt that can accompany new motherhood. We want this conversation to go further, for people to discuss and study the cultural norms that put mothers’ mental health at risk. This month we can converse about the pros and cons of the expectation that mothers are relied upon to ensure the health and wellbeing of the entire family unit. We can also discuss the impact of social media on mothers’ mental health. For example, what it feels like to be struggling mentally and physically postpartum when everyone else around you looks ‘together’ with a happy bouncing baby in their laps.
This May serves as a reminder that none of us are alone in any of this, and that your own mental health should always be prioritized. You can use the hashtag #maternalMHmatters to join the conversation this month.