With a severe lack of mental health funding in this country it is perhaps not surprising that there is not much in the pot for those suffering from postnatal depression. This issue, specifically the lack of consideration it generally receives, seems to crop up in one newspaper or another with depressing regularity. It is often accompanied by some terrible incident, as if this makes it newsworthy, in which some mother has taken her own life or or more tragically those of her children. These articles invariably say the same thing. We need to remove the stigma around it, increase awareness and petition the government for more resources to combat it. And since I am in complete agreement I’d like to add my voice to the growing din.
So what are the facts and figures? Well, according to an article in Metro, between 10% and 15% of mothers will suffer some form of postnatal depression. This can occur immediately after birth and last several months. In more extreme cases it can persist for a year or more. Symptoms include a persistent feeling of sadness, loss of interest in the world, fatigue, insomnia, disturbed sleep, problems with concentration, low self-esteem, poor appetite, agitation, irritability and in more extreme incidences thoughts of suicide and self-harm. Often mothers do not recognise it themselves and it is incumbent upon family members to spot the warning signs. These may include crying for no obvious reason, difficulty in bonding with the newborn, neglecting one’s hygiene, losing a sense of time, inability to process humour and constantly fearing that something is wrong with their baby. In more serious cases (affecting about 1 in 1,000 new mothers) the new parent may experience postnatal, postpartum or puerperal psychosis, which involves a severe episode of mental illness and can result in suicide or infanticide. Symptoms mimic many of those with bi-polar disorders and include feeling happy one moment and depressed the next, believing fantastical things which cannot be true and more disturbingly visual and auditory hallucinations which encourage harmful acts towards their baby. Such cases are regarded as medical emergencies, as it was with jewellery designer Felicia Boot. She was under the delusion that her children were about to be taken away by social services and sadly believed, in the logic of postnatal depression, that only a drastic solution could end her predicament. In May 2012, she suffocated her ten-week-old son Mason and 14-month-old daughter Lily just days after her family had moved into their new home in south west London. Her condition was mercifully recognised by the courts and she was spared jail. Remarkably, after spending two years in a psychiatric unit, she was released and resumed relations with the father of their deceased children. This observation is not intended to be inflammatory, but rather to indicate how strongly he must have felt that she was also a victim. To him, her actions were so far out of character that it effectively constituted a different person. One who was not Felicia Boot.