PND – Interview with an expert! #1 TalkingMums
So… I’m Excited about this One! My new series ‘PND – Interview with an expert’ is finally live! And what a place to start; an interview with the lovely and knowledgeable Helen from TalkingMums! Thank you so much for being involved 😀
Tell me a little about yourself?
Hi, I’m Helen from TalkingMums. Currently I’m on a career break from work to be with my little people and also because childcare options didn’t seem to fit with work. I’m a midwife for 10 years, a job which I love. My favourite things are (cringe) my family, days out / holidays with my family, red wine and salt and vinegar chipsticks!
What is your experience with PND on a personal and/or professional level?
I remember learning about PND as a student midwife. It was a fairly new phrase to me at that point. Stats say it affected 10-15% of mothers. My training provided me with the facts but I don’t really think it was adequate enough to prepare me for actually helping families. Rates of PND are still quoted at being 10-15%, 13 years on. NICE state that depression and anxiety affect 15 – 20% of mothers in the first year following childbirth. I suspect the numbers are higher though.
As years have passed, I’ve had children, my friends have had children and I have met many women and their families at work. PND is something that I’ve become increasingly aware of. I think we are getting better at understanding it but still have a long way to go. We have a mental health specialist team at work that do great work but sadly as they are only a small team they cannot spread themselves far enough. When I talk to women and my friends about their PND it always seems to be a battle, something that they feel others just don’t understand.
Personally I suffer with episodes of anxiety but have been lucky that it’s never crept into the realms PND. Anxiety and depression are co-morbid disorders though.
In your opinion what is the hardest part of the illness?
I think so many aspects of mental health problems are difficult. But from discussions with others the hardest part is acknowledging the problem, seeking help and discussing PND with close family, friends and employers. Another difficulty seems to be the internal battle with ‘why’. ‘Why me?’, ‘Why can’t I be normal?’, ‘Why can’t I come off my tablets?’, ‘Why can’t I cope?’.
I think for new mums there is this perception that motherhood should be the happiest of times and that you should adapt to this new role seamlessly. In reality a seamless transition isn’t always the case and it can be hard for women to accept this. It’s the battle with not being the mother you hoped you would be. When in fact they are probably doing a great job.
What is your opinion on using anti-depressants as a cure for PND?
This is a difficult one. Anti-depressants as a cure for PND is something that I struggle with. I think that they treat the symptoms but not the root cause, therefore they are not really a cure. I definitely think they are necessary for some but not all. They often can be the only way for some to come out of the dark cloud they are stuck under and give sufferers the headspace they need to think clearly. The down side to them is the stigma still attached to them and many report a ‘numbing of feelings’ whilst on them. I know many who once on them need to remain on them, which is ok. If we see them like a blood pressure tablets or insulin for diabetics would there still be a stigma? (many who take these need to remain on them for life).
I think whether they are prescribed or not should be down to careful consultation with a GP. How severe is the problem? Is it actually PND and not PTSD or anxiety. I don’t think a routine GP appointment is actually long enough to ascertain this though. I think if antidepressants are prescribed, then once the correct dose has been established counselling or therapy and other coping mechanisms should also be discussed and offered.
Do you think that diet and exercise has an effect on PND?
Absolutely YES! It is known that the majority of people with PND and other forms of depression have bad diets. What goes into our body can have massive effects on the way we feel. Primarily we need food for energy. Lack of energy is not going to help someone with depression feel like helping themselves. If we are optimally nourished then our bodies are better able to repair themselves, function normally and fight off disease and illness. Eating regularly is also important as it maintains blood sugar levels.
Exercise also has a feel good effect. Firstly if you are healthy you feel good about yourself. Secondly exercise is known to release endorphins, the natural feel good hormone. Thirdly, exercise works to tire you which in turn helps you calm your mind and aids sleep, an overactive mind and poor sleep are issues people with depression can suffer from.
What would your advice be to someone who is suffering from PND or thinks they may be?
Talk, talk, talk. Be it your GP, health visitor, midwife, partner or a friend. I read a great piece of advice somewhere. Before going to see a GP, write down your feelings and thoughts. Going to the GP for some can be quite daunting and during the discussion it can be quite easy to miss important details out or lesson the extent of the problem. If everything is written down then you can present your true feelings to the GP without clamming up trying to discuss them in a conversation. Look for advice online with MIND or APNI too. Don’t compare yourself to others. It can be easy to assume that everyone else is succeeding at life and you are failing miserably but actually there will be more people around you than you think that are suffering too.
Accept that there will be hurdles along the way. Understand that as circumstances change in your life, antidepressant dosage may need changing too. Join support groups, peer support can be so helpful.
Eat well and regularly. It might help to plan meals for the week. Take up some form of exercise, incorporate it into your day to day routine.
What would your advice be to a husband/partner/parent of someone suffering from PND?
Please be understanding and patient. It really is one of those conditions that you cannot completely understand unless you’ve been there yourself. It may be easy to think that someone suffering from PND should ‘pull themselves together’ but this is the worst thing you can say.
I would say read some literature on PND and perhaps talk to someone charitable organisations such as MIND or APNI. The better you understand depression, the better you are able to support them. Many tell me the most important thing a partner/friend can do is listen. You don’t have to have the answers, just listen and support.
Involve your partner when it comes to making decisions about accepting or asking for help from relatives and friends. Doing this covertly can further diminish any feelings of self worth a mother with PND has.
If you think it has reached a point where you are really worried about someone, you think they have become detached from reality or have expressed thoughts of self harm or suicide then seek professional help immediately. As much as it may be upsetting it is cricial you get the support you all need.
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