Postnatal depression and other mental health problems related to pregnancy and childbirth are recently getting a lot of attention.
Many mothers become very sensitive while going through the stressful period of pregnancy and childbirth. They are much more susceptible to mental health challenges such as postnatal depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
For many years, these disorders were linked to hormonal changes and the trauma of the birth itself. Recently, this view has begun to be criticized. It puts a lot of pressure on mothers and does not examine other reasons for the mental challenges women go though after pregnancy and giving birth.
A study done by researchers from North Carolina State University, Simon Fraser University and the University of British Colombia wanted to check the relationship between partner abuse and women’s postpartum mental health. They measured various types of abuse, including physical, psychological and sexual, and mental health disorders. The researchers looked at postnatal depression, stress, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and post traumatic stress disorder. They discovered big correlations.
In the study, women from high socioeconomic backgrounds, with no history or risk of mental disorder, were interview about their partners. These were the results:
- 84% of the women in the study reported experiencing physical, psychological or sexual abuse by a partner prior to becoming pregnant.
- 70% of the pregnant women in the study reported some form of abuse by their partner during pregnancy.
- Forms of abuse ranged from name-calling to rape and even physical assault with a weapon.
- After giving birth, 61% of the participants reported symptoms of postpartum mental health problems. These included postnatal depression within three month after childbirth.
- 47% of them reported symptoms of moderate severity, which is considered a “clinical” level.
- Women who suffered more types of abuse also reported more severe mental health symptoms.
The most important part of the study was the relationship between the form of abuse and the mental problem. This information is also highly relevant to parents as it may shed some light on abused parenting and mental disorders in children.
Researchers found the following correlations:
- Psychological abuse (verbal and emotional) was associated with stress and PTSD.
- Physical abuse was associated with postnatal depression, OCD and PTSD.
- Sexual abuse was associated with stress, postnatal depression and PTSD.
These results can explain many mental disorders in women. But are women really the problem? When I shared this study with some of the women I work with, they were very upset that mental health assessments in pregnancy only focuses on the woman. What about the partners’ emotional health?
I believe that looking at partners will allow a more holistic approach to mental health. We should not only focus on giving women the skills to manage abuse, but also help men develop skills to prevent the abuse.
And what about the children? Since children always absorb what happens around them, this is also important for them. Abused mothers with mental health problems will raise abused kids with mental health problems. This is one area that needs plenty of research – the impact of parental abuse on children’s mental health.
Pregnancy and giving birth can be difficult. But they can also be exciting and smooth. Giving everyone involved the skills to cope with such the challenging experience of having a new baby will give us better adjusted parents, and therefore better adjusted children.
Postnatal depression is not random and knowing its sources can help stop it from being so common and affecting so many lives.
Happy and healthy pregnancy!