My interest in this is three-fold, as a mother, as a professional working with children and families and as a volunteer with Motherwell CIC, an organisation supporting the wellbeing and mental health of mothers in Cheshire.
Good maternal mental health is imperative - from the moment a child is conceived their mother's mental health will have an impact on the developing child, influencing nutrition and lifestyle choices. Motherhood is a journey that no-one can fully prepare for, so swift and easy access to maternal mental health services should be a priority. Of course, it's not just the impact on their children that is important. Mothers should have support for themselves - in the work I do with Motherwell we are constantly striving to put across the message that we are here to support you as a mum but you as an individual because you're special and important for being you - not just because you are a mum!
From the moment a child is born it is typically their mother who becomes a container for and buffer of their little ones emotions, trying to soothe their distress by running through a catalogue of baby's possible needs. Fathers and other family members play a part in this too but often it's mum who is dealing with baby for the majority of time through biology or circumstances. Everyone's mental health is important but mums are often the lynch pin in the family in emotional terms.
So, what can we do to support mums?
- Mums can support each other. I am a member of several online communities who have provided invaluable support before and during pregnancy. I also have 'real life' friends ;-) - there's nothing more valuable than being able to message someone you know understands for a second opinion or judgement check along the lines of, "Is this normal?", "Do you think this needs medical attention?" etc. Just talking to other mums helps you to know that some thoughts you have are normal.
- Provide support services. My perception is that support services are becoming more prevalent and thinking more creatively about the support that they offer. For example, Motherwell CIC offer post natal counselling, peer support groups, opportunities for creative expression and holistic therapies to support mums.
- There's much more that could be done at a national level - there is a desperate lack of provision for mother and baby inpatient care - find out about it and support any local campaigns to provide more services. Maternal Mental Health has a ripple effect on everyone's mental health.
- Finally, if you are struggling as a mum, reach out. To a friend, to a health professional - there will be some support available and there are people who want to help. On Twitter there is @TheSMILEGroup (Cheshire based) @motherwellcic (Cheshire based) and @PNDandMe and #pndhour (Wednesday 8-9pm UK time) which would be good places to look for support.