Louis Theroux’s new documentary ‘Mothers on the Edge‘ aired last night exploring the severe side of postnatal mental illness. He spoke to several mums, their families, and clinicians at a mother and baby unit in England.
I sat down to watch the programme as a mum who has struggled with perinatal anxiety and depression myself. Although I have almost fully recovered I found the show to be very emotive and triggering. I cried on several occasions for those mothers who are facing a challenge of epic proportions. I know all too well the challenge of trying to reclaim a life all while dealing with the relentlessness that is motherhood.
Sensitive and measured
I was particularly impressed with how sensitively Louis Theroux handled the subject. There was no sensationalism, no taking advantage of these women for a good story. It was simply an honest and engaging account of what women are going through every day all over the world. Shows like this help to shine a spotlight on perinatal mental illness. They help others to understand it a little better.
Mental illness is all-consuming
I wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of mental illness after my first daughter was born. I was really looking forward to being a mum and couldn’t wait to meet my little girl. Shortly after she was born however, I began to suffer from extreme panic attacks and anxiety. These left me unable to look after myself on many occasions, never mind look after a baby. I struggled with my mental health throughout two subsequent pregnancies and a miscarriage. As I watched those women in the documentary suffering, I desperately wanted to reach out and reassure them that it will get better. I did for me.
While I was at one of my lowest points, I set up a perinatal mental health support group. I found my tribe of fellow parents who could understand what I was going through. I finally got the help I needed and with hard work and a LOT of support from my family, I did recovered. I was very. Others are not so.
We need to do better.
Suicide is the leading cause of death in women in the first year after giving birth. While there are many mother and baby units in England, a number planned for Scotland, in Northern Ireland and Wales we have nothing.
Why are mother and baby units important?
It has been proven repeatedly that the best way to treat perinatal mental illness in mothers is to keep her with her baby. It is best for the mother and the child and provides the best opportunity for bonding, feeding, and recovery. In areas where no mother and baby unit is available, mothers are routinely separated from their babies and admitted to general psychiatric wards. Not only is this frightening for new mothers, but being separated from their children causes a huge rift which takes a long time to recover from.
No specialist services
When treating a woman with perinatal mental illness, we need specialist services. We need to consider the complex nature of the mother-child bond, the needs of the family for secure accommodation, feeding and an environment suitable for children. Even for women in the community who don’t need to be hospitalised, it is not good enough to provide mixed-gender or mixed-experience support groups. Many women also wait for months, sometimes years for therapy. Women need appropriate and timely care in order to fully recover and to allow them to enjoy parenthood.
I’m struggling, what can I do?
If you are struggling with your mental health the most important thing to do is to educate yourself about your illness and find out which treatments will work best for you. You can find more information and support at We Are Pangs.
Find someone to talk to who you trust. Having a listening ear can be an immense comfort. It will also help to minimise the intensity of the thoughts you have.
You can check out my book Pangs: Surviving Motherhood and Mental Illness. This documents my own story as well as having self-help techniques and resources to help with your recovery.