My weakened mental health as a mother with a sick baby
I had never paid much attention to depression, anxiety, eating disorders or sleep deprivation, that is, until I had my second baby. She was born sick and went through a number of surgeries in her early life, requiring a stay in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit for a few months.
I thought I am a strong mother and I can handle all the problems being thrown at me.
I was wrong.
During this time, I began to realise that I was eating excessively, getting angry at the baby and becoming annoyed very quickly; my first child was totally neglected. Negative emotions were experienced throughout my whole family, something that has been shown to affect the quality of the care of children (Kong et al. 2013). I was shocked to see that my mental health was deteriorating and that my mood was constantly shifting.
The Research College of Midwives has published an article reporting that 80% of parents who have a sick baby in hospitals suffer from mental illness after the experience.
Why do we only pay attention at these mothers after they suffer from mental illness? Why do we not care for them before they cross this line?
30% of Neonatal care units in the UK agree that parents do not have any psychological support during their babies’ stay in hospital. I don’t even know how many parents, besides me, would ask for help; to me, this is the scariest part. How do the parents know if they are going through psychological turmoil?
Even though I was not aware of what my symptoms were, my gut feeling was that I should talk to my GP about what I was experiencing. I also decided to research this myself. This thought made a big difference to my life as my attention shifted in a different direction.
I began to watch films, read books, meditate, and use the internet to research what was happening in the field. It helped me to think it all through, and to find different answers. It helped me to make myself comfortable and find a solution, to keep me engaged with my whole family.
Because I identified the need of speaking out, I was able to get counselling. Without knowing about the psychological impact of having a sick infant, you may not necessarily know that you need to reach out. The problem may not be recognised until it is at the very worst point.
During this period, I was referred to counselling sessions for 10 days. Even though it gave me some relief by being able to talk to this amazing person who takes on other folks’ horrible experiences, I didn’t get that much help. This is not to say I had no improvement as it helped me realise the changes I needed to make, but rather I felt that they didn’t explain to me what was happening and why. Instead, the counsellor recommended treatment with anti-depressants. Even though I was not diagnosed as a depressed person, the counsellor might have figured out that I was heading that way.
I still can remember my exact feelings when I was offered antidepressants:
My instinctual response was to refuse to take antidepressants. Instead, I said to the counsellor, “I am sure I can manage it and I will go the GP again if I need any help.”
I did now know what antidepressants are, but personally, I hate taking any pills. So much so, that I didn’t even bother to ask the pros and cons of the antidepressant.
Antidepressant pills can be prescribed to patients with moderate to severe depression, however, NHS website says that ‘how it works is unknown’.
On the internet, the effect of antidepressants always comes with mixed feelings. Some feel that they may help with symptoms such as sleeping problems, anxiety and sadness, whereas others have doubts about it.
Personally, I haven’t got much experience about it, except for the information available on the internet or from the NHS. I am still a bit confused about the facts available to the general public about antidepressants. However, antidepressants are helpful in people with clinically significant depression.
I didn’t worry too much about it, because I knew I was not so depressed.
Instead, I started walking around the park, and I was so gutted to feel that I was breathing heavily like a dog. Only then, I realised how much my health had declined, and that I was overweight as well. So, I have realised that it doesn’t matter how fast or slow you walk, what matters is that you walk and take as much fresh air as you can into your body. This made me feel so much more relaxed and comfortable. Research has shown that exercise and outdoor activities improves the signs of stress. I also did light exercise, cycled around the park, read many self-help books and practicied meditation. Without even realising, my sleeping pattern improved; I started eating more mindfully — reducing the quantity I used to eat. Because of all of this, I started turning back towards my family, and I was once again helpful to my children. I was calmer than before and started thinking very clearly. Therefore, while I am not speaking for everyone, and I know that antidepressants are very helpful for some people, it is true that there are also other methods of combatting depressive-like symptoms, not just pills. While as I said I was not diagnosed with depression, the counsellor could see that I was heading that way. It may not be the sole answer for someone with more severe depression, however the beneficial effects of fresh air, exercise and diet have been proven to help for some people who are experiencing depressive symptoms. That being said, if that you feel you are experiencing depressive symptoms, it is vitally important to talk to your GP.
If we all go outdoors as much as possible, connect with nature and distract our minds from thinking about the complicated lives we have, it can make us feel much more relaxed and comfortable. It effects both our mental and physical health. When I did these things, it helped me to get rid of the awful feelings I had, without the need to take antidepressants. A few years on and I am feeling so much better, and I am pleased to say that my daughter is doing so much better too.
NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: At InSPIre the Mind we have created a new anonymous account to allow writers with more personal experience, to tell their stories as honestly and openly as they would like. The aim of this account is to allow writers to feel most comfortable and to remove any pressure when sharing stories they may not have spoken out about before. Of course we know who the anonymous writer is, and, while respecting their editorial freedom, we ensure that what they say is not against current medical and scientific evidence.
NOTE FROM THE WRITER: I have decided to write this blog to let parents going through similar situations know that they should get help, from their GP or the NHS, if they experience symptoms like this, before it’s too late. This is important so that precautions can be taken to prevent going down the line of depression or anxiety. But, they should also help themselves through changes in their lifestyle and activities. If they don’t fight for their mental and physical health, no one else will do it for them.