Admit how you are feeling, even if it is really hard.
Jenny’s story (Belfast)
Four years ago I had my second child, Isaac. After he was born, I felt differently to how I had felt when his older brother, Sam, had been born. Something wasn’t right.
I felt depressed and struggled to bond with Isaac. I also felt unable to look after Sam adequately. This put a great strain on my marriage, but I just found it too hard to talk about how I was feeling.
Feelings of helplessness
When I was really struggling to feed Isaac, it was assumed I’d be fine because I’d done it all before. But this increased my feelings of helplessness, inadequacy and being overwhelmed. I even started to resent Isaac for not feeding or sleeping as easily as Sam had.
Eventually, I spoke to my health visitor, who referred me to my GP, and soon I was taking medicine that made me feel much better. My health visitor also recommended a course provided by a mental health organisation local to me, which taught me tools that helped me leave my medication behind and take control of worries that bother me.
Early support for new mums
The most important thing I think you can do if you feel depressed after the birth of your child is to admit how you are feeling, even if it is really hard.
Mental health should also have the same status as other major illnesses to help raise awareness of symptoms and support. There is so much already out there to equip people to manage their emotions but not enough of us know about it.
My wife received little support from the hospital midwives.
Raj’s story (Berkshire)
My wife developed stress-induced psychosis when she was nearly 30 weeks pregnant. At the time, she saw me as an antagonist, and due to her condition I was subjected to mental and verbal abuse as my wife’s perception of reality was affected.
Our GP offered us no clear advice or counselling at a time where my wife was extremely anxious. The fact our daughter was an IVF conception also added to the stress she was feeling.
She was eventually sectioned and placed in a mental hospital before being transferred to a specialist mother and baby unit [MBU].
She attempted suicide
Following a traumatic birth, where she received little support from the hospital midwives, my wife suffered postnatal depression and 10 days later she attempted suicide. She jumped from a window and broke three bones in her back.
My wife later returned to the MBU, but her injuries meant I had to take a great deal of time off work to care for her and our baby. This had a massive impact on my career, and I also went on to suffer from depression.
Better support for partners
With better mental health training and understanding I feel our GP could have diagnosed her condition sooner. There needs to be improved education for community midwives as well, because the ones we dealt with struggled to cope with my wife’s deteriorating state.
In the future, I would also like to see more information and support available for fathers or partners. By raising awareness, and with greater investment, we can make sure everyone has access to superior local mental health services.
Money and resources need to be directed towards supporting women with mental health issues.
Louise’s story (Oxfordshire)
I suffer from bipolar disorder and was treated with lithium. For five years my husband and I had raised with my psychiatrist the issue of us trying for a family, but she kept failing to find out about what changes to medication would be advisable before conception.
Eventually, my husband did some research and found out about a perinatal psychiatrist in London. The hour we had with her meant such a lot after all those years of the issue of us wanting children being brushed aside. We felt empowered, and following her advice I gradually came off the lithium.
They were wholly unprepared
The following year I conceived but found my CMHT [community mental health team] wholly unprepared for issues that arose during pregnancy and the postpartum period.
Prevention better than cure
Despite our best efforts to minimise me becoming mentally unwell after birth, things still did go wrong. I had a difficult delivery and ended up in hospital for a week. This led to me not seeing a psychiatrist for 10 days, even though after five days I developed a very pronounced stress-related speech impediment and wasn’t sleeping.
I strongly believe the care you receive should not be decided by a postcode lottery and that prevention is better than cure. Money and resources need to be directed towards supporting women with mental health issues and their families throughout pregnancy and the first year after birth. I’m sure this would avoid many acute episodes of mental ill health.
I was so worried that my daughter would be the next Baby Peter or Madeleine McCann.
Ann’s story (Hertfordshire)
After my daughter’s birth I suffered from severe antenatal obsessive compulsive disorder [OCD] and lived with a crippling fear that something terrible was going to happen to her.
At a time when I should have been enjoying being a new mum, I was gripped by panic and couldn’t even watch the news. I was so worried that my daughter would be the next Baby Peter or Madeleine McCann.
But my doctor didn’t even know maternal OCD existed. At that time, the stress of the situation was severely affecting my husband and parents as well, but none of us knew who else we could turn to.
I realised I wasn’t alone
Not being diagnosed properly meant I had to suffer for longer. It wasn’t until I started a cognitive behavioural therapy course that I slowly started to feel myself again.
I soon realised that I wasn’t alone. Being able to speak to someone who understood what I was going through was a real helping hand.
Need more awareness, better support
Because of my experience, I definitely believe better awareness of maternal OCD is needed. It would also help to have detailed literature available that explains the condition and highlights the symptoms people need to look out for. Advice and support should be readily available and accessible.
I’m positive that investing in maternal OCD education will help to achieve this and change people’s lives. I can’t express enough how important this is to so many people. But the sad thing is people will only realise this when it happens to them or someone close to them.
We’d been trying to cope without adequate knowledge of her condition.
Peter’s story (Newcastle upon Tyne)
My daughter developed serious postnatal depression. Her condition deteriorated over a period of several months and culminated in a suicide attempt and a missing person’s search for two days.
She had left me with her baby while she went ostensibly for a jog. When she failed to return, I raised an alert with the police and other agencies.
Impact on the whole family
Following this incidence, a psychiatrist in Newcastle rapidly reviewed the situation and sorted out a speedy transfer to a mother and baby unit, where my daughter stayed for five months.
The impact of my daughter’s illness was serious on the whole family. After we received help, we also realised we’d been trying to cope without adequate knowledge of her condition and without the specialist support we needed.
Although progress was slow at the mother and baby unit, we always had the belief that my daughter was in very safe hands. The family was also encouraged to be part of the team looking after her. Thankfully, she made a full recovery.
Need a national strategy
Despite my family going through such a traumatic experience, I also think we were fortunate. There is a unit in the catchment area where my daughter’s crisis happened, but there isn’t one available where she lives.
This is why I think it’s essential we have a better provision of services and a national strategy to help mothers affected by maternal mental health problems. With the correct interventions, and by treating the problem seriously and seeking expert help as soon as possible, there is a way forward.
Unfortunately, evidence shows that the NHS cuts are affecting mental health services disproportionately. This needs to stop. We need more investment, because it is possible to successfully treat people suffering from postnatal depression.
There was no support for partners of those suffering with perinatal mental illness.
Joanna’s story (Exeter)
Five days after the birth of my first child I experienced extreme anxiety and a sense of terror overwhelmed me. I was diagnosed with PND [postnatal depression], but I didn’t feel depressed, just incredibly anxious.
I was prescribed antidepressants and gradually I started to feel better. But when I discovered I was pregnant with my second son, the anxiety returned and this time it was even worse.
I felt suicidal
At my lowest point, I was suicidal and highly distressed. I felt unable to endure another moment of feeling so terrorised and I ended up being hospitalised and placed in a psychiatric unit.
I was diagnosed with severe antenatal generalised anxiety disorder, and after a perinatal mental health midwife arranged for me to return home, I started taking the medication that had helped me before.
Within a couple of months I had improved, but I never fully recovered. I wasn’t even able to breastfeed my second son and that was the most emotionally painful thing I experienced.
Must improve access
My husband also went through hell when I was ill. The person he loved was struggling to cope and he felt helpless not knowing what to do. It seemed as if there was no support for partners of those suffering with perinatal mental illness and this needs to change.
Greater investment in maternal mental health has to be achieved, and I would also like to see more local mother and baby units. They made a massive difference to me – people just need better access to the fantastic services they provide.
I even started to regret my decision to have a baby.
Hannah’s story (Bristol)
After the birth of my son I developed mild postnatal depression [PND] and moderate anxiety. I suffered panic attacks and was fearful of being judged as a ‘bad mother’, as being incapable of looking after my child in the ‘right’ way.
Despite regular visits to my GP, it was two years before I was diagnosed correctly. In that time, my condition led to relationship breakdowns between friends and family – all of whom could have provided endless support had I known what I was suffering with. I even started to regret my decision to have a baby.
The constant doubts I was having made me believe I couldn’t care for my son and I felt very isolated and helpless.
My GP failed me
I didn’t know who to turn to after my GP failed to offer me the support I needed. Thankfully, I discovered a local charity that specialises in helping new mums and families affected by PND. It was only after contacting them that I gradually started to improve.
Looking back, my GP or health visitor should have spotted the warning signs far sooner. I remember being reassured that my behaviour was ‘normal’ and that I was ‘fine’, but it clearly wasn’t.
Surrounded by a stigma
The memories I have of my first year as a mother are a blur and no one should have to experience that. With better training for health professionals and more awareness, people suffering from PND will be diagnosed earlier.
I think mental healthcare is still widely neglected and is surrounded by a stigma. More investment is needed for better education and local specialists who can help people affected much sooner.
Staff at the Mother & Baby Unit supported me in all aspects of caring for my baby whilst at the same time allowing time for me to become well again.
Hannah’s story (Thirsk)
I had a straight-forward pregnancy and gave birth to my first baby after an emergency c-section in 2009.When I started having irrational, racing thoughts and very strange behavior my community midwife sent me to my GP. Things worsened and few days later, I saw a different GP who referred me to a psychiatrist who diagnosed ‘depression, postnatal onset’ & gave me medication. Frighteningly my condition quickly deteriorated. My condition became so bad I was sectioned in a general psychiatric ward, separated from my son and diagnosed with Postpartum Psychosis [PP]. I had no history of mental illness and developing PP was a complete shock and extremely traumatic.
Mother & Baby Unit (MBU)
I spent two distressing weeks in the general psychiatric ward until a bed became available in a specialist mother and baby Unit. I was stabilised there on my own and my baby joined me ten days later. It was enormously helpful that even with a round trip of 60+ miles, my husband could visit us each evening. This unit has now closed.
After going home three months later, I suffered extreme anxiety and lost a lot of confidence which took time to rebuild. The medication made me very tired. Thanks to the support of a care coordinator and with a series of consultant psychiatrist appointments, I gradually improved.
What should’ve been a joyful time with my new baby was terrifying and extremely stressful, not just for me, but for my family too.
Investment is needed
I had my second child in 2013 and with a care plan in place I didn’t get PP again. With my second pregnancy I struggled to access mental health services.
My message to others is, with the right support – from family, friends and professionals – you will get better. We desperately need more investment to raise awareness and more MBUs.
A few weeks later she took her own life.
Chris’s story (Huddersfield)
After my partner Joe suffered several miscarriages, we feared we would never be able to have a baby. But in 2010 we were delighted to welcome our beautiful daughter into the world.
Joe was determined to be the perfect mother, but when she struggled to breastfeed, it led to feelings of severe anxiety and extreme failure.
A month after giving birth, Joe admitted she was having suicidal thoughts and was diagnosed with severe postnatal depression.
She begged to be hospitalised, but home treatment was considered the best option. It wasn’t, because a few weeks later she took her own life.
The warning signs had been documented in her medical notes, but at no point was Joe referred to a perinatal psychiatric service specialist. I had also been given no information about how I should care for her.
Campaign for better services
We had been failed by the system and in 2013 the NHS finally admitted in court to a breach in their duty to care. If Joe had been admitted for treatment to a specialist unit she would have been expected to make a full recovery.
Adequate perinatal psychiatric services are still not available across the country and more investment is needed to change this. No one should have to go through the same suffering we did.
Since Joe’s death, I’ve set up a charity and campaigned for better services that would have saved her life. We need to focus on educating people about postnatal depression and make sure that everyone who needs it has access to the appropriate treatment.
I began to have suicidal thoughts and couldn’t even look at my daughter.
Becky’s story (Dawlish)
Two weeks after my baby was born I started suffering from severe postnatal depression [PND]. I began to have suicidal thoughts and couldn’t even look at my daughter or pick her up.
The antenatal classes gave me unrealistic expectations about parenthood which I could not meet, and the attitude of one midwife the day after I gave birth crushed my confidence in relation to breastfeeding, As I struggled with anxiety and insomnia, my mum and partner had to care for my girl.
Without the right support, the problems escalated and my partner couldn’t understand what I was going through. Unfortunately, we’ve now separated.
You will get better
Although I suffered from an eating disorder at 13 and some event related mild depression, I hadn’t consistently suffered with any serious form of mental illness before but I knew I needed help. Within weeks of seeing my GP, a perinatal mental health team in Torbay intervened and prescribed me the right medication and also offered my family support.
My message to people experiencing the same pain I did is that you will get better, I promise. Be open and honest about your condition. Go and get help, and if your GP is not sympathetic, see a different one or speak to your midwife until you are referred to a health professional who can help you.
Better training for professionals
To make sure fewer people experience the devastation I went through, more investment is needed in perinatal mental health services and also better training for all health and social care professionals.
The specialist community services available were my lifesaver, but these would still benefit greatly from being expanded so they can offer all types of support to mothers, their families and particularly fathers.