Motherhood is often thought to be a magical experience. For 1 in 7 new mothers who suffer Postpartum Depression, this may not always be the case. Maternal mental illness can be very lonely and isolating.
Unfortunately, Kenya’s shortage of mental health specialists means that many mothers do not get the treatment that they need. There are just about 62 psychiatrists serving a population of 49.7 million people. These glaring gaps in the mental health sector paint a grim picture.
Gaps that exist in Kenya’s maternal mental health field
Some of the gaps that exist in Kenya’s maternal mental health include:
Low awareness of maternal mental health in the society
Stigma surrounding (maternal) mental disorders
Discrimination against mothers who have a mental illness, making it hard for them to reach out for help.
The ‘Elimisha Mama’ Program
‘Elimisha Mama’, Swahili for ‘Educate a Mother’ is PPDKenya’s flagship project that seeks to address these gaps. The program seeks to incorporate maternal mental health into routine antenatal and postpartum clinics. The aim of the program is to create awareness on maternal mental health as well as provide psychosocial support for moms with a mental illness.
The program takes a two-pronged approach:
offering psychoeducative talks during Antenatal and Postpartum Clinics
pregnant women and new mothers who screen positive for a maternal mental illness get psychological help. Peer supporters from PPDKenya will also offer psychosocial support onsite. Severe cases will be escalated to the hospital’s psychiatric department.
PPDKenya partnership with Akshar Healthcare Facility, Kikuyu
The Elimisha Mama program rolled out on April 3rd 2019. This was made possible following the partnership between PPDKenya and Akshar Healthcare Facility. Akshar Healthcare, formerly known as Kikuyu Nursing Home, was established in 2012. The health facility takes great pride in providing professional and compassionate care for its patients.
Akshar offers the following services:
out-patient and inpatient services
The availability of maternity and psychiatric services at Akshar provides a solid foundation for Elimisha Mama.
Antenatal Clinics at the health facility run every Wednesday. Volunteers who would like to join us for Elimisha Mama can email email@example.com
Day is marked each year on March 8. This year’s theme is #BalanceForBetter, and
as we observe this day, it is only prudent that we address women’s mental
health. With more clarity about women’s mental health, it is then possible to
address women’s needs in a better way.
There is no health
without mental health. In marking International Women’s Day, this provides an
excellent chance to address the difference between men and women as far as
mental health is concerned.
Gender and Women’s Mental Health
Mental illness affects
both men and women, often interfering with one’s ability to lead a full life.
While the general rates of mental illness are similar for men and women, there
are unique gender-based differences in terms of how the mental illnesses
According to a report by WHO, gender is a key factor in mental health. Over the years, the significant burden of mental illness has been highlighted more that the gender-specific factors surrounding the same.
Gender is a critical
element because it establishes the differences between men’s and women’s
control over their vulnerability to particular mental health risks. Nowhere is
this more evident than in the rates of common mental illnesses – anxiety,
depression and psychosomatic symptoms.
Gender differences in terms of mental
Research shows that
the three common mental illnesses affect 1 in every 3 people. Depression for
instance, is twice as common in women as it is in men. There is a reason for
this – the symptoms of depression and anxiety are directly related to interlinked
factors. These factors include gender-based roles, societal expectations and
To put this in
perspective, consider the following gender specific risks that affect more
women than they do men:
Based Violence (GBV)
(and in light of this, the global pay gap between men and women)
It is important to clarify that this is not a battle between men and women. We cannot be blind to the fact in Kenya, men are more likely to die by suicide than women. A survey carried out by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics indicates that 421 cases of suicide were reported in 2017. Out of these cases, 330 of the suicides reported were by men.
Why the gender-based differences in
terms of mental health?
The fact that most women take up responsibilities in caring for families and running their households seems to contribute significantly to this gender-based difference. For some, this comes at a steep cost when you consider the time and energy that goes into running households, a labour which, for the most part goes unpaid. This takes a huge toll on women’s mental health and financial status.
Add to this some of
the challenges that women face at the workplace, particularly in male-dominated
fields and it is easy to see the need for gender equality. But this does not,
and should not take away from the need to promote women’s mental health.
How can women take care of their
As we celebrate
International Women’s Day under the theme #BalanceForBetter, it is an opportune
reminder that behind every woman playing her role in society, is a human being
whose physical, emotional and mental well-being matters. Mental health is at
the core of our well-being.
Below are some tips to
help care for your mental health.
Take care of your physical health
Poor physical health
increases the risk of mental illness. This is why mental health and physical
health should not be thought of as separate entities. What is good for the body
is good for the mind. Make sure to have a balanced diet, get adequate sleep and
engage in physical activity.
Maintain healthy supportive
relationships is key to a woman’s mental wellbeing. These relationships not
only offer support, they also provide much needed stability in the midst of
life’s daily challenges.
placed on women sometimes make it difficult to draw a distinction between
different aspects of life. To improve your mental health, it is important to
create boundaries between your professional and home life. This allows you to
plug into your social networks and enjoy interests outside the workplace and at
It is said that you cannot pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself first before taking care of others. Whether that is staying indoors over the weekend, practising affirmations, cutting out toxic friendships or simply unplugging from the internet. Read More on selfcare here.
Be aware of the symptoms of mental
Awareness is an
important part of caring for your mental health. Knowing what symptoms to look
out for is key to help with your mental wellbeing, especially because one’s
mental health will vary throughout their life.
This past weekend, we were invited to join Supamamas at the New Pampers Premium Care Launch. The event was held at PrideInn Rhapta Road. As expected, the event’s audience drew from various professionals in the maternal field, pregnant women and new moms.
Insightful session on pregnancy and beyond
Alongside launching the New Pampers Premium Care, the colorful event covered a number of topics related to pregnancy and motherhood. These insightful sessions were made possible by the panel that included:
Hamida Ahmed, a psychologist based in Westlands, Nairobi.
Some of the topics that were covered included:
self care during pregnancy and beyond
Maternal Blues and Postpartum Depression
Psychologist Hamida adequately spoke about maternal blues and Postpartum Depression (PPD). There is a difference between maternal blues and PPD. Maternal Blues affect upto 80% of new moms, are short-lived and do not often need treatment. PPD on the other hand, affects 1 in 7 moms, lasts up to a year after childbirth (longer if undiagnosed) and requires treatment.
She also emphasized that there was no health without mental health. Hamida also highlighted the symptoms of Postpartum Depression, and how moms can get help. Treatment for PPD includes psychotherapy, medication and support group therapy.
PPDKenya was well-represented by our founder, Samoina. She shared on the work that the organization does in offering psychosocial support for moms with PPD. PPDKenya also advocates for maternal mental health. Some of the lovely moms who have benefited from PPDKenya’s support groups in the past year were also present at the launch.
We would like to thank the team at Supamamas for putting together a great event for moms and moms-to-be.
Below are some photos from the event, and you can view the full album here.
Every birth experience is unique. Many new moms look forward to the end of pregnancy and the beginning of a new journey as they enter motherhood. Some moms will, however, experience trauma during childbirth, sometimes leading to Postpartum PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
After delivery, many
moms may feel fearful, disappointed and even angry that their birth experience
did not go according to plan. There are many reasons why a birth experience may
be difficult or traumatic. To understand this better, it is important to define
what birth trauma is, and how it affects new moms.
What causes trauma during childbirth?
Trauma is defined as the result of an extremely distressful event that interferes with an individual’s ability to cope with daily living. According to a 2013 News Release by WHO, trauma may result from experiencing violence, accidents, war and loss among others. WHO estimates that up to 3.6% of the global population has experienced PTSD in the years preceding this release (link).
Trauma during childbirth as the perception of threatened or real injury or
death to the mother and/or the baby. A different school of thought opines that
childbirth trauma should only be defined by the women going through it.
A 2017 study conducted to explore the experiences of women who have had traumatic birth experiences indicated the following findings: Many of the responses included extremely severe physical pain, the lack of support, the lack or loss of control over the birth experience as well as fear for the baby’s health.
What then makes
certain birth experiences difficult?
Some moms will experience births that look really difficult to the outsider, yet, the moms are able to process the experience and feel optimistic about it. Others on the other hand, present what looks like a perfect birth experience, and remain deeply distressed in the postpartum period. For a number of moms, the birth experience brings them close to death, and affects them for years to come.
To further understand these
dynamics, it is important to define what constitutes a good or bad birth
experience. Research provides four objective parameters for this:
duration of labour
The use of
medication to relieve pain
These four parameters shed some light on trauma during childbirth. For instance, some moms experience early labour so that they feel that everything happened too fast. In such scenarios, there is the lingering thought that the birth process did not go to plan. One of our moms once reached out and shared how, despite having hoped and planned for a vaginal birth experience, her baby was not progressing as expected and she ended up getting a CSection. In her experience, everything was moving too fast and this proved to be traumatic.
“I feel like my body failed my baby,” she shared with us.
Some moms will feel so
taken up by the whole process that they feel disconnected from what is
happening (without the use of anaesthesia). One mom explained how the birth
process felt like ‘an out of body experience’, like she was an outsider looking
in and completely swept away by the procedures.
A matter of life and
For moms whose birth experience is a medical emergency, there is always the risk of trauma. Whether it is failed anesthesia, baby developing complications and/or staying in NICU, or the mom experiencing heavy bleeding, an experience that places either mom or baby in danger can prove to be traumatic. This is also seen in moms who fear that their babies may die after birth.
PS: This study also indicated that for many moms, a
traumatic birth experience can be traced back to actions by health care
providers. When a nurse is unkind, or breaks sad news without empathy, new moms
tend to feel ignored and that their needs do not matter.
“In some cases, care providers used lies and threats to coerce women into complying with procedures. In particular, these lies and threats related to the wellbeing of the baby. Women also described actions that were abusive and violent. For some women, these actions triggered memories of sexual assault”
BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth (2017)
As such, it is
important to note the extent to which care providers can influence a woman’s
experience of trauma during birth. Other risk factors for a traumatic birth
experience include a history of mental illness, previous sexual abuse and
trauma in previous births.
Postpartum PTSD is
different from Postpartum Depression
Many moms will often confuse Postpartum PTSD with PPD, but the two maternal mental disorders are very different. Mothers with PPD will typically experience difficulty bonding with the baby, weepiness, loss of appetite, inability to enjoy activities they previously did, and in some cases, suicide ideation. Read more about the symptoms of PPD in this post.
In Postpartum PTSD
however, moms experience the following symptoms:
thoughts relating to the process of childbirth
or flashbacks that are too real
avoidance of things that relate to the specific birth experience such as
details of the hospital and the thought of labour and birth
to talk about the birth experience because it is painful and may lead to panic
Postpartum PTSD is treatable, and if you think you may be suffering, it is important to get help. Postpartum PTSD arising from childbirth trauma is NOT your fault. Please get in touch with us and we will link you to professionals who can help.
Lately we have had moms getting in touch with us to ask, “Can I get Postpartum Depression (PPD) after the first year?” This is almost always followed by their own admission that their kids are above 1 year, but they do not still feel like themselves, and they wanted to know if we would help.
Granted, it is not possible to make a diagnosis over the phone, neither is it possible to offer a general statement for all of the moms who reach out to ask for help. To answer this question, it is imperative to define postpartum depression as one of the perinatal anxiety and mood disorders.
What is Postpartum depression?
A literature review on the WHO website defines postpartum depression as a common mood disorder that affects moms up to the first year after child birth. Contrary to popular belief, PPD does not just affect moms with newborns. Since it lasts up to a year after birth, it can affect moms whose kids are way past the infancy stage. Additionally, the ‘one year after delivery’ time frame is not cast in stone either.
There is mounting evidence that in many cases, PPD could be the result of mental illness that remained undiagnosed before the pregnancy. An article in the Journal of Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience underpins these findings:
The onset of PPD is usually within the first few months after childbirth, although some women report onset of symptoms during pregnancy.
For some moms, antenatal depression (also known as pregnancy depression) that is left untreated may also progress to PPD. When you consider the numerous changes that a woman’s body goes through during the postpartum period, it is easy to see why pre-existing mental illness can get severe. These changes include drastic hormonal changes, lack of sleep, lochia, breastfeeding and all the typical stressors that come with new motherhood.
The Postpartum Period
According to Postpartum Progress, the use of prepartum and postpartum typically refers to the period during pregnancy and in the year after delivery. It is important, however, to mention that certain stressors may lead to the characteristic symptoms of PPD even after the one year mark. These stressors may include sleep deprivation, weaning from breastfeeding, financial constraints and abuse among others.
As Postpartum Progress
postpartum episode of depression or anxiety can be triggered by one or more of
the above. While they aren’t aware of this when they first call, most of
these moms can trace their initial symptoms back to the earliest moments of
Why is all this
important? It matters that moms have this information. It is easy to feel
resigned to fate – the fate of not been able to enjoy motherhood. Some moms
will even wonder whether they are ‘too silly’ or ‘too emotional’ to ask for
help and support. Time continues to pass by, with each day bringing more
overwhelm and anxiety.
How will I know
whether it is Postpartum Depression or the Baby Blues?
The truth is that
there is no shame in having Postpartum depression, whether you are a mama to a
newborn or a one-year old. It doesn’t matter what age your baby is – if you
feel like you need help it is best to talk to someone.
Many new moms will often wonder if what they are experiencing is the baby blues or postpartum depression. We have previously covered this topic, which you can read in this post. But to provide a rundown, the baby blues are a short-lived condition in which a new mom may feel emotional/ overwhelmed/ weepy after having a baby. This condition typically lasts for about two weeks, and therefore requires no treatment.
PPD however, is more intense and interferes with a mom’s ability to carry out daily activities and bond with her baby. PPD lasts up to a year (or longer if undiagnosed), and therefore requires medical attention. It is also one of the most common maternal mental illnesses, affecting about 1 in every 7 mothers. Many moms tend to think that PPD is ‘not that severe’ and ‘will pass on its own’. This is not true, as moms with PPD need help and support to make a recovery.
PS: We share information, resources and events regularly on our social media pages. Please follow us on Facebook and Twitter as we raise awareness on maternal mental illness.