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Sign the petition for better services for women with PND

January 10th, 2009

Dr Petra

You may want to sign this petition to improve and increase services for women with Post Natal Depression (PND), their partners and their children. The petition is open until 16 January 2009.

PND affects an estimated 5-25% of new mothers, with symptoms ranging in severity and appearing anywhere from soon after birth to up to a couple of years after the child is born. Because symptoms, severity, onset and duration vary – and because so many other factors could explain some of the symptoms – quite often PND is not recognised or treated promptly leading to great distress to mothers and their families.

Symptoms of PND vary but, similar to other forms of depression range from a woman feeling exhausted, sad, useless, guilty, angry or irritated, experiencing sleep disturbance, and feeling anxious or panicky. Very often women feel dreadful for having such feelings when they’re supposed to be at their happiest, and particularly suffer because they may lash out (verbally or physically) at their partner or baby, or withdraw from social contact.

There’s a lot of debate around what causes PND – changing roles, hormones, bad birth experiences etc – although risk factors include past experience of depression (including having PND with a previous child), lack of support from spouse or others, being isolated or lonely, finding looking after baby difficult (or having a demanding baby), caring for a baby who is sick, difficulties in a relationship, having an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy, and suffering other stress in your life (for example poverty, bereavement, housing problems).

Unfortunately the very nature of having a child can mean women are exposed to increased risk factors and it’s impossible to anticipate them all. Very often problems can feel outside the woman’s control (for example a demanding baby or an unsupportive partner). Expecting a mum to just ‘pull herself together’ is often the response from families or other parents who don’t have PND. A mum with PND may feel so bad about her own skills as a mother she withdraws from other mums groups because it makes her feel even more useless, or she may feel so exhausted and deflated it’s difficult for her to motivate herself to join in activities. Either way, the end result tends to lead to her being more isolated, unhappy and stressed.

Partners can do a lot to help, as can friends and family – for example taking the strain of childcare and giving mum time to rest and have space from baby. Getting more rest and established sleep patterns may help, as can sorting out other problems within relationships or external stressors (if possible). Support groups with other mums can be helpful, although it may not be easy to get women to attend in the first place. Observant health visitors, GPs and partners can spot problems, but not all have the skills or time to notice – and when they do there aren’t always places to refer women to (hence this petition). Medication and counselling can make a difference over time.

Currently in the UK our maternity and health visiting services are overstretched. It means many parents are not adequately prepared for birth or having a baby, and not adequately supported once baby arrives. It is left to parents to make most contact with health services, and if you don’t feel well enough to do this it’s pretty easy for you to slip through the system.

Meet A Mum Association is one excellent organisation who work to offer support, advice and information to women affected by PND and their families. Alternatively some health centres set up support and social groups for new mothers, or you could create one of your own if one doesn’t exist in your area.

Many mums affected by PND still feel shocked, ashamed and powerless if they are affected, and may well suffer in silence. If you are concerned you or someone close to you may have PND you may want to try this diagnostic tool. The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Checklist contains 10 questions that assess whether you may have PND. You can find the checklist and a score calculator here courtesy of Patient.co.uk. If you do have a score that worries you, or if you are worried generally speak to your health visitor or GP. If you are a partner of someone you think has PND then you can also speak to your health visitor or doctor about your worries.

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