On Friday 18th September I travelled to the University of Huddersfield to attend the Maternal Mental Health Conference. The audience was mainly made up of midwives, student midwives and people like myself who are interested in maternal mental health. I currently volunteer on the PANDAS helpline and thought it would be a great opportunity to widen my knowledge of perinatal mental health and how it is approached from a healthcare professional’s point of view.
Although the conference was mainly aimed at healthcare professionals there were many points that I took away from the day that may be of interest to the lovely women and families who turn to PANDAS for support. The following points are based on what I heard on the day and also from my own reflections.
Mia Scotland, clinical psychologist and author of ‘Why Perinatal Depression Matters’ made a number of really important points. She said that humans, unlike any other mammal, have a neocortex in the brain which allows us to have an imagination and facilitates conscious thoughts. As humans, we have the ability to think ahead and learn from the experiences of others which can be a good thing but it can also cause us complications. It can lead us to consider what could happen and ponder over the “what ifs?”, resulting in feelings of anxiety. We can often carry on stressful feelings even after the experience has passed, sometimes we don’t even have to experience anything to make us feel stressed.
Physical health and mental health are interconnected. Research in the past 10 years shows that physical health and mental health are linked. To improve mental health, you need to look after yourself physically. This can be done in a variety of ways such as being well rested, not just in terms of getting a good nights sleep but also recognise when you need time out. Go for a walk and get some fresh air or sit in a quiet room and read a book, whatever it is you enjoy doing for yourself then do it, even if it’s for 15-30 minutes a day.
Never feel like a failure. If you are currently suffering from a perinatal mental health illness, please understand that you are doing the best you can and it is not forever, it’s just something that you’re dealing with now. By being a part of a supportive community whether it is online or in person is a great way of meeting people who have shared similar experiences to you.
Professional help is out there and you will not be judged in any way for confiding in a healthcare professional if you have concerns regarding your mental health.
Change your language from negative to positive. Replace the impossible with the possible. We are programmed to be more receptive to negative thoughts than the positive ones but you have the ability to change this.
You know what your “normal” feels like better than anyone else, if you feel like you need additional support then don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Elaine Hanzak, author of ‘Another Twinkle in the Eye’ and ‘Eyes without Sparkle’ spoke about her experience of perinatal mental illness and how she survived it. Her book ‘Another Twinkle in the Eye’ addresses the challenges some women may feel when contemplating another pregnancy after having already suffered with postnatal depression. The book is released on 23rd September and may be an interesting read to those of you in a similar situation.
Overall the day was extremely insightful and it was inspiring to hear a number of brave women discuss their experiences of postnatal depression and other perinatal mental health illnesses. It was also reassuring to know that there are many healthcare professionals out there that are passionate about improving maternal mental health support and you are not alone in your journey.
Bethany Smith, student midwife (To-be hopefully!) and PANDAS volunteer.