Significance of maternal mental health 

Significance of maternal mental health 

The journey of becoming MAMMHA (My attention on maternal mental health actions)

Ritika Sharma

“The canvas of comprehension is painted with the brushstrokes of personal experience.” I found myself navigating the intricate steps of a social worker and a new mother simultaneously. Sometimes when you experience something so closely, you can comprehend the intricacies minutely.

As a mother and in the convergence of these two realms, I discovered a profound truth that illuminated the contours of my journey: the critical importance of mental health, especially the often-overlooked terrain of maternal mental health.

This article embarks on a voyage through the interwoven threads of my experiences, shedding light on the unspoken battles many women/mothers face and the resilient spirit that propels them forward.

This is not just a story of my own experiences; it is a narrative that echoes through the hearts of countless women who, like me, have stood at the crossroads of pregnancy and motherhood, grappling with the joys and challenges that abound.

An eye opener

As a social worker, I was initially shocked by the mental health challenges faced by women during this crucial period where they go through so many changes and yet are expected to embrace things positively. I wondered why this area is extremely overlooked and the government isn’t doing more to address the issues. Women from higher-income backgrounds in metropolitan regions opt to pay substantial sums of money to give birth at private nursing homes. Many women in rural set-up still opt for home delivery, often under dangerously unhygienic conditions.

This reflects a broader societal issue where mental health, particularly during significant life transitions like becoming a mother, often goes overlooked or underappreciated. 

A new mother typically asks her family and close in-laws for support and advice after she has a child. Mothers-in-law in Indian households can be highly supportive in caring for the infant, which can aid the new mother emotionally. But a disturbed relationship between the in-laws might make the expecting mother feel depressed and anxious both during and after pregnancy. The new mom’s emotions may be impacted by family conflicts and aggressive family arguments.

My personal experience of transitioning into motherhood underscored the complexities and emotional ups and downs that can come with it. I described a roller coaster ride during the first year of motherhood, which is a sentiment shared by many new mothers. The physical and emotional changes, combined with adapting to a new marriage, can indeed be overwhelming.

Same story different settings

The entire experience took me back to my official field visit to Jharkhand where my visit in the rural tribal area and the discussions with pregnant and lactating women opened my eyes to the harsh realities faced by many women in these situations. The stress and depression experienced by pregnant women due to family dynamics, including the influence of in-laws, highlight the need for more comprehensive support systems. Lack of knowledge of antenatal care as well as long distances to health centres and lack of transportation were additional reasons given for not seeking care during pregnancy.

Similar to this, women in Delhi’s urban slums have complained about a lack of safe spaces to talk about their first pregnancies and of acquiring the right information.

Traditional beliefs and rigid family systems can sometimes deter pregnant women from seeking necessary medical care, leading to delays in health-seeking behaviours. 

This underscores the importance of education and awareness campaigns to change such perceptions and ensure the well-being of both the mother and the child.

My own emotional journey through pregnancy and the anticipation of motherhood further emphasises the need for strong social support systems. 

It’s a mother

It’s common for expectant mothers to have mixed emotions, ranging from happiness and excitement to anxiety and nervousness. These feelings are entirely normal but having a support network can make a significant difference in how mothers navigate this transformative period.

The importance of screening for depressive symptoms in all pregnant women, regardless of their background is much needed. This is a crucial step in identifying and addressing maternal mental health issues early on, ensuring the well-being of both the mother and the baby. For me, it’s become undeniably clear from my journey that there is a pressing need for greater awareness and unwavering support in this area.

According to the India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative, in 2017, approximately 197.3 million Indians suffered from mental illness, which means that every seventh Indian was affected by mental illnesses of varying severity. The study also estimated that the percentage prevalence of depressive and anxiety disorders was higher in Indian women (3.9%) compared to men (2.7%). 

Unfortunately, mental health facilities in India are scarce, and there is a lack of awareness regarding the importance of mental health care during the perinatal period. For the fiscal year 2021–2022, India’s Ministry of Finance allocated Rs 712,690 million to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, which accounts for about 3 per cent of India’s Gross Domestic Product. Out of this amount, the government allocated a total of Rs 5970 million to mental health care and only Rs 400 million to the National Mental Health Program (NMHP)

Overall, as per both professional and personal experiences, and multifaceted challenges of maternal mental health, there is a need for comprehensive support systems and awareness campaigns to promote the well-being of mothers and their families.

I believe it is crucial for policymakers to reassess the effectiveness of the ICDS programme and incorporate mental health programmes to provide comprehensive care and support for new mothers at the community level. 

As a new mother myself, I understand the significance of having a safe space to discuss mental health issues and receive the necessary resources and assistance to improve my mental well-being. By integrating mental health care into the ICDS or other community level programmes, it can be ensured that all mothers will have access to the support they need to thrive during this critical time in their lives.

I’m hoping that by sharing my professional and personal experiences, we can initiate a conversation about the importance for women to support one another at this critical time, include maternal mental health in the health programme, and frame policies around it by policy makers on making the first 1000 days happier.