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Maternal Mental Health Day/Week Raise Awareness

*This article is for educational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Consult with your primary care physician if you have medical questions or concerns.

When it comes to holidays in the month of May, most people think of Mother’s Day (celebrated the second Sunday in May). May is also significant for moms as it holds both Maternal Mental Health Week (April 29-May 5) and World Maternal Mental Health Day (May 1).

In 2014, the Policy Center for Maternal Mental Health launched the U.S. Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week campaign after several organizations voiced interest in raising awareness. The purpose of establishing Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week was to raise public and professional awareness of perinatal mental health problems, advocate for women and families impacted by these issues, and change attitudes surrounding maternal mental health.

Later, in 2015, a small group of people met to start making plans for the first-ever World Maternal Mental Health Day. The group decided that the event should be held each year on the first Wednesday of May, close in date to both Mother’s Day and Mental Health Week in many countries. The first World Maternal Mental Health Day was established on May 5, 2016, with the goal of raising awareness of maternal mental health issues so that more women will get treatment.

According to Post Partum Support International, although many women experience some changes in mood during and after pregnancy, 15 to 20% of women experience more significant symptoms of depression or anxiety. While most people have heard of the term postpartum depression, many health professionals use the broader term, perinatal depression or perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (PMAD). According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), perinatal depression is a mood disorder that can affect women during pregnancy and after childbirth. Perinatal depression includes depression that begins during pregnancy, called prenatal depression and depression that begins after the baby is born, called postpartum depression.

Mothers with perinatal depression often experience feelings of extreme sadness, anxiety, and fatigue that may make it difficult for them to carry out daily tasks, including caring for themselves or others. Perinatal depression is a medical illness that can affect any mother regardless of age, race, income, culture, or education. Women who suffer from this condition are not to blame for having perinatal depression, and it is not brought on by anything a mother has done or has not done. Perinatal depression does not have a single cause. Research suggests that perinatal depression is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Life stress, such as the demands of family or work or past experiences of trauma, the physical and emotional demands of childbearing and caring for a new baby, and changes in hormones that occur during and after pregnancy can contribute to the development of perinatal depression. In addition, women are at greater risk for developing perinatal depression if they have a personal or family history of depression or bipolar disorder or if they have experienced perinatal depression with a previous pregnancy.

Some women experience a few symptoms of perinatal depression, while others experience many of the symptoms. Some of the more common symptoms include:

– Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood most of the day, nearly every day, for at least two weeks
– Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
– Feelings of irritability, frustration, or restlessness
– Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
– Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
– Fatigue or abnormal decrease in energy
– Being restless or having trouble sitting still
– Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
– Difficulty sleeping (even when the baby is asleep), waking early in the morning, or oversleeping
– Abnormal changes in appetite or unplanned weight changes
– Physical aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not have a clear physical cause and do not go away with treatment
– Trouble bonding or forming an emotional attachment with the baby
– Persistent doubts about the ability to care for the baby
– Thoughts of death or harming oneself or the baby or suicide attempts

Women who experience any of these symptoms should see a healthcare professional. A health provider can then determine whether the symptoms are due to perinatal depression or something another cause.

Treating perinatal depression is essential for the health of the mother and her baby. With proper treatment, however, most women feel better, and their symptoms improve. Treatment for perinatal depression usually includes therapy, medication, or a combination of therapy and medication. For more information or if you have questions, consult with your family physician or other medical provider.