Lizzie Dudeney, 40, says the #stigma needs to be removed from #post-natal #depression
As part of a new series called Me and my mental health, i is sharing people’s stories about how their personal struggles have impacted their lives.
Welcome to the “next chapter” of my life… being a voice and an advocate for #mentalhealthawarenessandsuicideprevention, especially pertaining to our younger generation of students and student-athletes.
Getting men to speak up and reach out for help and assistance is one of my passions. Us men need to not suffer in silence or drown our sorrows in alcohol, hang out at bars and strip joints, or get involved with drug use.
Having gone through a recent bout of #depression and #suicidalthoughts myself, I realize now, that I can make a huge difference in the lives of so many by sharing my story, and by sharing various resources I come across as I work in this space. #http://bit.ly/JamesMentalHealthArticle
Lizzie Dudeney, 40, from Brighton, talks to Claudia Tanner about her battle with postnatal depression after the birth of her daughter, Kira, now eight. She is now studying a PhD on maternal #suicide, a leading cause of death for new mothers, in a bid to help others who are going through what she experienced.
Being pregnant is a magical time. I was so excited and passionate about this new life growing inside of me.
But once that baby is in your arms, it can be a real complex mix of emotions.
Here was this bundle of joy I felt so much love for and would do anything to protect from harm.
The PhD student was overjoyed when she fell pregnant (Photo: Lizzie Dudeney)
But I wasn’t prepared for the huge waves of #anxiety, fear and sense of responsibility that would overwhelm me in the following months.
It really kicked in about two months after my daughter was born. When I got the chance to sleep I struggled to, I’d wake up in a sweat from having nightmares. I had panic attacks, which were worse when I went outside with the two of us. I became withdrawn from friends and family.
Pressure to be ‘perfect’
I realise now that a lot of my worries were rooted in me feeling enormous pressure to be the “perfect mother” who could take motherhood in my stride. Anything less meant that I was failing in my role.
I’d struggled with breastfeeding from the onset. I had to express all the time. I felt I was letting my daughter down not being able to give my baby skin-to-skin contact while feeding.
One time I got panicky on a bus and had to get off. I was worried my daughter would start crying and people would get annoyed and judge me for being incapable of looking after my child. I’d get worked up about the bus being stuck in traffic or it becoming too crowded, making it even harder for me to get off if I needed to. The fear of this would create anxiety before I’d even got on the bus.
Lizzie says having a baby can bring complex emotions (Photo: Lizzie Dudeney)
‘I was stuck in a pattern of negative thinking which was very difficult to break’
At my lowest I suffered from #suicidal thoughts. It’s a very complex thing to look at your child and know you adore them and want to be there for them, but to also feel so hopeless and worthless as a mother that you feel they’d be better off without you.
It all felt like a vicious circle. I was stuck in a pattern of negative thinking which was very difficult to break.
I felt isolated because none of my close friends at the time had babies so I felt I had no-one to talk to about it who would understand. I didn’t want to let on to people that I was struggling to cope. So I just tried to keep up a façade, but on the inside, I felt very lonely.
Luckily my husband, who was a great support anyway doing his part with the baby, noticed I was struggling and encouraged me to open up. I had counselling – privately as I felt the waiting time on the NHS would do me no good.
Breaking the #stigma
It’s common to feel a bit down, tearful or anxious soon after giving birth, what’s known as “the baby blues”. But if it lasts beyond a few weeks, it could be #postnatal #depression, which affects one in 10 women within a year of giving birth.
A woman has to cope with so much, both physically – including hormonal changes – and emotionally. Of course it can also affect fathers.
I pulled through it and I was one of the lucky ones. #Suicide is the leading cause of death for #women during the first year after pregnancy. Of the #women who die between six weeks and one year post pregnancy, one in seven have taken their own life.
The #stigma around talking about struggling mentally and having suicidal thoughts for new #mothers is a huge barrier to receiving treatment and support. We need to change that and talk about it more.
I had fears Social Services would take away by baby if I spoke out. But it’s really okay to not be okay. Women should know there’s no shame in it.
Signs of #postnatal #depression
Postnatal #depression can start any time in the first year after giving birth. Signs include:
- A persistent feeling of sadness and low mood
- Lack of enjoyment and loss of interest in the wider world
- Lack of energy and feeling tired all the time
- Trouble sleeping at night and feeling sleepy during the day
- Difficulty bonding with your baby
- Withdrawing from contact with other people
- Problems concentrating and making decisions
- Frightening thoughts – for example, about hurting your #baby
Many women do not realise they have postnatal #depression, because it can develop gradually.
Better support needed
It’s estimated that half of perinatal #mentalhealth problems are not identified in the UK, despite regular routine contact with healthcare services. This has to change.
I feel that current screening mechanisms for assessing the #mentalhealth of new mothers don’t adequately pick up on those feeling suicidal. Too many new mothers are falling through the cracks.
This month I began a PhD placement at the Centre for Maternal and Child Health Research, City, University of London, where I will be carrying out potentially life-saving research into perinatal #suicide risk and prevention.
I aim to identify the most effective method of assessing suicidal thoughts and risk in perinatal women so they can get the right help quicker. I intend to get new mothers and health practioners involved as it has to be appropriate to women’s needs and practical.
No new mother should suffer in silence. With the right support, most women make a full recovery.