According to a new study by the British Journal of Psychiatry one in four women have mental health problems in pregnancy. The author of this study, Professor Louise Howard says that women are not protected from mental health problems in pregnancy and that problems developed during this vulnerable time can have a lasting impact both for themselves and for their babies. There may be triggers to depression. For instance an unwanted pregnancy, housing problems and lack of social support can all trigger depression. Pregnancy is a massive change in a woman’s life and this cannot be underestimated. Professor Howard wants midwives and support services to better identify cases, through more structured questions.
If mental health problems in pregnancy are little understood today think what it would have been like years ago, in the 1950s, when the NHS was in its infancy. My new novel, “Every Mother’s Fear” highlights some of the mental health issues women faced – a time when shame cowered from all mental conditions like a fearful plague and people shut the mental health box with a locked key. Sandy, in Every Mother’s Fear is unmarried and carries an unwanted baby. There’s no doubt that she’s suffering from mental illness and yet there is nobody to turn to, nobody who will understand, least of all her mother, who is more bothered about what the neighbours will think. And there’s no way out of the situation, no morning after pill or abortion pill. She has to go through with her pregnancy, shunned by family, hidden away to wait it out before having her baby is adopted. In the late 1950s there was a drug women were offered as a cure for all sorts of ailments, but mainly for depression, anxiety, worry and other mental health related problems.That drug was thalidomide. There’s a common misconception the drug was used for morning sickness alone. It was in fact used as a cure for so many things at a time when mental health was even less understood. And think how it would have been for mothers giving birth to babies damaged by the drug thalidomide. They had very little support. In those days there was no counselling or support.
I hope you will enjoy my book, which is perfect for fans of ‘Call The Midwife.’ The 1950s were a tough time for women. Our housing situation was in crisis. ‘Cathy Home Home’ perfectly highlights this. Inadequate accommodation adds to the stress of pregnancy. And on the other end of the social scale middle class women had never had it so good, according to the politicians. They didn’t have to work and life was more leisurely, but they were bored and unfulfilled. This situation is explained very well in Betty Friedan’s book ‘The Feminine Mystique.’ An explosion in women’s mental health problems was happening and women were turning to pills to help them through the day. Have we come any further on, in 2018 I wonder. Not if we are to believe the findings of Professor Howard.
Here is a link to ‘Every Mother’s Fear.’