HomeNewsPost-natal depression: Women suffering in silence

Post-natal depression: Women suffering in silence

BY HAZVINEI MWANAKA

“THE first signs I got was anxiety. I could not breast feed, sleep, eat, frequently had headaches and tensions. I would only get relieved when I would put the baby down, go outside and scream,” recalled one lady who once suffered from post-natal depression.

The headaches continued until she felt she could not handle it anymore.

“I decided to visit my doctor, who advised me to deal with the issue psychologically, but on the other hand, I was already affected. To me, everything had changed, taking care of the baby, the stretch marks, among other issues.

“Basically, it was sad, I was just tired and I had mood swings. I could just leave the baby lying down and take a nap because everything was just now centred on the baby. My life had become about that child and I could see myself gone,” she said.

“The changes, stitches, and belly, to be honest, I was in distress. I think labour triggered that distress and tension in my body worsened everything.

“I had to stop breastfeeding at six months because whenever I sat down to breastfeed, I just hoped it could end. Usually during the night, I could not sleep, I would be awake just looking at the baby.”

She said government should create centres where young women and new mothers could go and learn on how to take care of themselves physically and emotionally.

After giving birth, women experience changes physically and emotionally. A lot happens during child birth. Some deliver through normal delivery and others through caesarean.

Clinical psychologist Vongai Munatsi said post-natal depression was real and it occurred within two months after giving birth.

“Research has suggested that post-natal depression results from hormonal changes that occur after delivery. Symptoms are very similar to depression and only differ in that their onset happens after delivery,” she
said.

“Symptoms include depressed mood, loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, fatigue, finding it difficult to sleep or concentrate, and lack of interest in the baby and feeling guilty about being detached from the baby or being a bad mother.”

Munatsi, however, added that post-natal depression also affected the baby and the family as a whole.

“The mother who experiences a variety of depressive symptoms such as sadness and hopelessness suffers deterioration in her general health. She is unable to connect with her baby, which can affect the baby’s physical, emotional and cognitive development.”

She also added that though people were aware of mental health issues like post-natal depression, there was, however, a lot of work that needs to be done to raise awareness as large numbers of women within the community do not know about it.

“There is need to seek professional help from a psychiatric or therapist as medication and therapy can be used to treat post-natal depression. Self-care is important, one should take care of themselves by sleeping, eating well and exercise,” Munatsi said.

“One should build a solid support system to ensure that they have enough emotional support.”

Government, she said, should fund psychosocial programmes and build more psychiatric hospitals so as to increase access to services at affordable rates.

Careen Chikwanha, director for Second Chance Foundation, said post-natal depression to many was still a myth.

“Few people are aware of it and they think that it doesn’t exist and it’s a myth,” she said.

“People rarely notice and some people end up going to churches thinking that it is something demonical and also traditional healers thinking that they are crazy of which it’s a mental illness like any other mental illness and common.

“Post-natal depression is not only found in women but in men as well and the stigma associated with mental disorders makes women unlikely to seek treatment.”

Post-natal depression, Chikwanha added, mostly affected women who have a baby before they reach 25 years of age.

“Research shows that children with depressed mothers are at a risk of weakened brain development. Early brain development depends on serve and return,” she said.

Serve and return refers to interactions between babies and parents.

Chikwanha said some of the symptoms include feeling sad and tearful, trouble connecting with the baby, and feelings of guilty about not being a good mother, adding that some people could go to an extent of hearing voices, thoughts of suicide or hurting the baby.

“People should be educated about mental health and post-natal depression, and it’s not like a cyst that can be seen physically, but mental illness it’s there. People are educated about pregnancies and other issues before child birth, but very little preparation after the child birth,” she
said.

“We have been educated on how to take care of our babies, but not educated on how to take care of our bodies, so we hide any physical struggles and forge smiles and filter photos because the real picture isn’t pretty.”

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