Maternal Mental Health Research Collaborative
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6 Good Reasons Why Moms’ Mental Health Matters

Women’s issues get pushed to the side, especially those that are about our health and well being. Whether it’s drug trials that only use men as study participants or a lack of coordinated resources to address mental health – women and moms are an afterthought.

But this week – Maternal Mental Health Week – we’re here to continue our advocacy, raise our voices and make a lot of noise. We want the world to know that our mental health matters, that moms matter. We’re going to challenge the common myths of motherhood and shed light on its reality.

For some moms, the transition after having a baby is relatively easy and they’re able to embrace their new role. For others its a struggle complicated by feelings of depression, anxiety and guilt. Where the problem lies is that each one of us is supposed to experience the former instead of the latter.

When we don’t meet these ideals we think we’ve failed or that something is wrong with us. And I don’t just mean “wrong” from an illness or medical perspective, but that we’re deeply flawed and never meant to be a mother. The reality is that what we’re actually experiencing is part of a complex biological, social and environmental change. What makes it even worse is that we think we have to do it alone. We’re conditioned to think that asking for help is a sign of weakness.

Maternal mental health advocates have been fighting for years to bring attention to the mental health complications that can accompany pregnancy and the postpartum period. It can be postpartum or perinatal depression, anxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, psychosis or another diagnosis. Regardless of what it’s called, our lived experience matters. The challenges of motherhood are amplified when we’re also trying to take care of our own health.

Maternal mental health matters and here are six really good reasons it’s an important priority.

It’s More Common Than You Think

Mental illnesses are the most common complication of the perinatal period. About 1 in 5 or 20% of women will experience a mood or anxiety disorder during this time. In the United States alone this means around 800,000 women experience a mental health complication every year.

Lack of Treatment Means Moms Stay Sick

When mental illnesses are left untreated, they can become chronic and ongoing. What this means is that years after having kids, moms can still be struggling with depression, anxiety, obsessive thoughts, insomnia, and feelings of guilt, rage and sadness. This not only impacts moms’ mental health, but their physical health, too. Failing to treat mental illness means moms stay sick. This impacts families and communities long term.

Maternal Mental Health is Unique

During the perinatal period, hormones are swirling and women’s bodies change rapidly. We know that women’s brains actually shrink during pregnancy. Senses like hearing and smell are heightened. We become more anxious and vigilant. Take these biological changes and add in social expectations, our own thoughts about how we should feel and act and the result is a unique set of mental health challenges. Moms need care from specialists who get it. We need high quality services from providers that aren’t there to judge or blame. Most importantly we need to hear that we’re not alone, we’re safe and that recovery is possible.

Moms Deserve to be Healthy

Moms give up a lot in order to raise children. We speak openly and often about the sacrifice of motherhood and celebrate all that moms do to keep their families strong. When it comes to health though, moms frequently ignore or put their needs at the very bottom of the to-do list. This can mean years and years of poor mental and physical health just because a woman has children. This creates a massive inequity that can be made worse by things like income, education, employment, race/ethnicity and other social and environmental factors.

Suicide is the Leading Cause of Death

Even though it might be really uncomfortable to talk about, suicide is the leading cause of death for women of childbearing age. We can’t bring enough attention to this fact. Every year we’re met with countless heartbreaking stories of moms we’ve lost, many of them having struggled alone or didn’t get the right help when they needed it.

Moms Are the Key to Healthy Kids

There’s more and more attention from researchers and policy makers about the importance of early brain development. Neuroscience shows that serve and return interactions, along with healthy, loving relationships between infants and caregivers are essential during this time. In a lot of cases, moms are their children’s main caregiver. If moms aren’t healthy, they can’t be fully present with their kids. It isn’t too hard to argue that healthy moms are going to mean healthier kids.

Moms’ mental health is vital to the health and long term stability of our children, families and communities. Maternal Mental Health Week gives us the platform to raise awareness and bring attention to these important issues, but our work doesn’t end here. We continue to move forward, together, making change for the moms who come after us.

Shannon Hennig is the Program Director of the Maternal Mental Health Research Collaborative.