What has Maternal Mental Illness done to my son?

From the moment our little ones are born, parents start to worry about them. From the ‘little things’ of nappy rash and teething pain, to the ‘bigger questions’ of their longterm health and future. We want to give them the best start in life. We NEED to give them the best start in life, that’s out job after all, isn’t it? So what happens when a mum isn’t well? What does that do to a child? Or maybe I should make it more personal, so it’s easier for you to digest – What has Maternal Mental Illness done to my son?

I’d love to be able to say nothing. I’d love to believe that he’s too young to remember any of it. That even what he has ‘picked up,’ won’t have any lasting effecting. At least that’s what I, and others, have been telling me, since I was diagnosed about 8 months ago. I hold onto that on my bad days. I marvel at how caring, funny, compassionate, outgoing, confident and well-adapted he is and remind myself that he’s come that far, despite having a mummy with severe Maternal Depression and Anxiety.

And then… before I go any further I am so sorry, if like me, you are a mummy who is/has struggled and you find this hard to read. I have found it hard to write. I’m not doing it to be controversial, to make anyone feel miserable or to be deliberately emotive. I firmly believe, and have stated it over and over, that there is no blame or shame in with mental illness (please read the linked post if you are struggling with that). But one very important question we must ask, answer and address is – What effect does this illness have on our children? 

The first time I heard an answer, different to my “Oh, he’ll be fine” response, was in a crowded room, with Dr’s, politicians, Charities and other PMH Campaigners. The physical pain that engulfed my whole body, as this information was shared, almost caused me to scream out. I was choked with tears. Awful nausea washed over me and, as it passed, I could feel panic rise within me. I was pinned to my chair but desperate to escape. I wanted to run, but there was no easy path out – I don’t even think my legs would have taken me.

Here’s what was on-screen and being discussed…

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Here’s the link to the full report and the summary of the conclusions –

“Results indicated that maternal prenatal anxiety predicted persistently higher behavioral and emotional symptoms across childhood with no diminishment of effect into adolescence. Elevated prenatal anxiety (top 15%) was associated with a twofold increase in risk of a probable child mental disorder, 12.31% compared with 6.83%, after allowing for confounders. Results were similar with prenatal depression. These analyses provide some of the strongest evidence to date that prenatal maternal mood has a direct and persisting effect on her child’s psychiatric symptoms and support an in utero programming hypothesis.”

A further similar report can be found here stating

“Care for the emotional state of pregnant women remains a neglected aspect of obstetric medicine. Many prospective studies have shown that, if a mother is depressed, anxious, or stressed while pregnant, this increases the risk for her child having a wide range of adverse outcomes, including emotional problems, symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or impaired cognitive development…”

The next slide showed this: 

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Again, here’s the report and a summary of the conclusions

“Two-thirds (82/125) of the women had been depressed during the 17-year time period, with the majority (54/82) experiencing more than one episode. A third of the women were depressed in pregnancy (41/124). Over half of these women (23/41) had consulted a doctor about their mental health prior to being pregnant and almost 90% (35/39) had further episodes during the child’s lifetime. 14% (18/127) of the adolescent offspring were diagnosed with a depressive disorder at 16 years. Every depressed adolescent had been exposed to maternal depression. The risk of depression for the 16-year-olds exposed to antenatal depression was 4.7 times greater than for offspring not so exposed. The effect of antenatal depression was mediated by repeated exposure.

I’ve heard this presented twice now – both times by someone I know, respect and trust. Someone with no desire to hurt or cause distress. In fact, this person is very highly thought of on the topic of Maternal Mental Health, working with the NI medical profession and campaigns for PMH constantly.  I know she only shares this to highlight why this issue is so important.

I am not suggesting, for one moment, that your child will be effected like this.  Please, please do not read this and think that.  I totally understand that, like me, you hope and pray that your child is not reflected in the above percentage. I am sure every parents does. But the hard truth is that someone’s little one will be, and that’s just not good enough. It breaks my heart.

These reports break my heart. They break my heart for every mum, dad, family and little one, who has experienced PMH and who have not been supported, as they should be, due to lack of almost everything that is really needed to help negate this illness. Here’s the extent of the problem and just how lacking services really are:

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The reports and statistics break my heart for my little boy, for my little Reuben. I want to give him the best start in life, my job is to give him the best start in life. Has Maternal Mental Illness robbed me of that? Or lessened my advantage? To be honest, it’s to painful to dwell on it and it won’t help him or me, if I do. But I simply can’t ignore it. I must, at the vert least, highlight it.

We have to do better on this issue, we MUST do better…

  • Those of us who campaign, must campaign harder.
  • Those of us who treat PMH, must treat it more effectively.
  • Those of us who educate, must deliver clearer and more engaging messages.
  • Those of us who legislate, must understand the implications and direct funding more specifically.
  • Those of us who use our voices to share our stories and lived experience must be supported to shout louder and we must be listened to. 

This issue is too important for us not to. The lives and futures at stake are those of our little ones. Those of our future generation. Those who will be our next policemen and plumbers; teachers and technicians; academics and athletes; doctors and diary farmers; caretakers and chefs; writers and window cleaners; shop assistants and solicitors.  We need to be heard for them. We need to do better for them. We need to see change for them. As much as I want to see PMH care improve for all other mums and families that come behind me, I am cannot ignore the next generation to which our little ones belong. Mental illness can be a vicious cycle and the status quo is simply not good enough.

Here’s our ask for Northern Ireland PMH care, will you join and help us?

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