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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
We are starting a new series titled #PPDMyStory where we will be sharing life stories of moms with Postpartum Depression, their motherhood journey and how they are recovering/ recovered. This is in line with our efforts to sensitize the community on maternal mental health and to raise awareness for Postpartum Depression (PPD).
Today’s entry comes from one of the moms who we have had in our support group sessions. She requested anonymity, so we will simply share her story as she did.
You recently had a baby, how was pregnancy?
My pregnancy had few complications. However, I enjoyed the last two trimesters because I did not experience intense morning sickness like I had been experiencing in the first trimester. In the last few weeks, I experienced some intense feelings of physical discomfort and this was made worse when I got really bad news about two weeks before I gave birth.
is 2 years old now, how has the experience been with him?
experience with the baby has been more blissful than I thought it would have
been. Initially I thought that I was never capable of loving this new human
being but I have grown to learn what he likes and what he doesn’t. I have also
grown to dedicate moments where we spend time together just to bond and
appreciate each other’s existence on earth. Being a mother to my son is the
most amazing experience ever.
A few months after birth you started feeling that something was off, that it was more than just baby blues. Please share with us about that period.
Getting sad news just two weeks to delivery made me question if I was ready to be a solo parent. It made me question my capabilities and I gradually started to feel like I had let down a small human being who had no idea of what I was going through. I gradually sunk into a state of physical numbness and emotional turmoil, and stopped enjoying activities I used to love like writing or going out with friends.
Waking up was dreadful, and during some moments I would play out thoughts of cutting my existence for good. I felt worthless. My self esteem took a plunge and I could not bring myself to work (as a freelance writer) because the voices in my head were constantly playing out situations that were far-fetched and independent of my reality.
When did you learn that it wasn’t just feeling off, that you had Postpartum Depression?
I came to the realization that these were not baby blues or just feeling off after 9 months of stagnation in my daily life. Things were crushing in my reality. I got to a point I could not effectively handle the bills, all my savings were almost depleted, I was in a constant state of despair, guilt and regret and to top it all I never wanted to live any longer.
What symptoms did you experience? What did you feel during this time?
Some of the
symptoms I experienced include:
Feeling helpless and out of control
Lack of interest in activities I once enjoyed
Intense guilt and feelings of regret
Constant exhaustion but total lack of sleep
Constant sadness and moments where I would cry without a distinct reason
Feeling like I am a bad mother for not being happy and grateful for this new bundle of joy
Intrusive thoughts of harming myself and having someone better take care of the baby
How did you get help? What kind of support did you receive?
I was referred to Samoina of PPDKenya by a mutual friend and after a few weeks of direct communication with her, she recommended that I attend some group therapy sessions that were organised for both young moms and dads with signs of PPD. Initially she had recommended that I seek individual counselling sessions but I was a bit hesitant to open up so I eventually felt like the group therapy sessions would help me open up. After attending the group sessions I was subscribed for a series of additional individual sessions with the therapist for about three months and I was accorded thorough emotional and psychological support.
What about your healthcare provider? Was anyone able to pick up your symptoms?
My healthcare provider at the time did not pick any symptoms mainly because when a mother goes to clinic after childbirth the focus is normally on the wellness of the baby. There is also the general assumption that is made, that the mother is okay, while they may not be.
Looking back, what risk factors do you think predisposed you to PPD?
My biggest risk factor that triggered depression was an unsupportive partner. This drained me a lot. In addition, I was constantly exhausted due to lack of good sleep.
What positive coping mechanisms have worked for you in your recovery journey so far?
Positive self-talk is a winner for sure. I used to love myself before conception but when PPD hit me hard I hated how I looked and even how I felt inside. After therapy, I am able to refute negative thoughts about my being and during moments when I feel overwhelmed, I always remind myself that I am in control (among other positive affirmations). I have grown to embrace meditation as part of my daily routine where I get in touch with my soul and I also get to let go of what no longer serves me.
In addition, I also engage in daily physical exercises which play a big role in breaking tension in moments when I feel otherwise. I journal long-term and short term goals to keep me motivated to work and achieve something tangible. I stick to a distinct schedule which also includes time for me to take naps and a quality time to sleep. Also, I have gradually revived my spiritual life which was typically dead.
What encouragement would you give to a mom who has PPD, or an expectant woman on how to take care of her mental health during pregnancy?
Depression (PPD) is a mental health condition that should not necessarily be a
death sentence. As a woman, many factors can predispose one to PPD hence one
should be keen to look out for distinct symptoms and at the onset of PPD seek
psychotherapy/counselling. In addition, there are various inexpensive ways of seeking
professional help as offered through PPDKenya.
What one thing do you wish you knew about PPD before your experience?
I wish that
I knew what PPD is, its symptoms and how to protect myself from the trigger
factors that initially sent me into a extended period of depression.
Thank you for sharing your experience with us, and with other moms. We hope your journey will encourage a mom who is scared of asking for help. Would you like to share your story on our website? Please get in touch on email: email@example.com with the subject ‘PPD My Story’
Postpartum Depression (PPD) is one of the most common maternal mental illnesses; with statistics showing that 1 in every 9 moms will get PPD. Yet, as common as it is, many affected moms typically admit that they wish they knew more about PPD before they had it. They admit it would help them accept the condition and seek help faster. We asked some of the moms who have reached out to PPDKenya (and gotten help) what they wish they knew about PPD before child birth. Here are the responses:
I wish I knew PPD steals even little joys
Lyn, a mom of two girls, shared how her PPD stole even the smallest of triumphs. She could not find joy in her motherhood experience, and this impacted her ability to bond with her second daughter. One of the ways in which Postpartum Depression manifests is through a mom’s inability to bond with her child. This does not mean that a mom hates her child; on the contrary, she may be overprotective of her bundle of joy, but just can’t find it within herself to bond and play with her baby.
I wish I knew PPD is a treatable mental illness
Lucy, a mom to one said, “I wish I knew Postpartum Depression is a mental health condition that can be treated through therapy. “ One of the myths about PPD is that it is a permanent condition for which there is no help. PPD is a temporary condition for which treatment is available. Moms do get help, and go on to make a recovery. Part of the reason we continue to do awareness campaigns on Twitter (check out our previous #PPDKenya tweetchats here) is because when moms are aware, then they can know what the symptoms of PPD are and where to get help.
I wish I knew Depression after birth is NOT normal.
“Depression after birth is NOT normal, and I wish I knew this. Additionally, PPD affects both moms and dads,” Kristy shared with us. Many moms who reach out for help with PPD will often admit that a well-meaning person told them what they felt was ‘normal’ and it would pass. The truth of the matter is that PPD is anything but normal. When a mom starts to exhibit symptoms of PPD, and they go on for more than two weeks, then there is cause for concern. More importantly, moms are reminded that, just because you exhibit just a couple of symtoms of PPD, it does not invalidate your concerns.
I wish I knew that it was possible to get Pregnancy depression and PPD thereafter
Jacinta* shared how, struggling with depression during pregnancy and not knowing what it was only compounded her symptoms after childbirth. Her pregnancy depression symptoms included weepiness (over just about everything), inability to comprehend a future with baby, so much so that she had intrusive thought even before baby was born. Left unchecked, Jacinta’s Pregnancy Depression morphed to PPD, and she shared how, knowing what she does now after support group sessions, she wishes she had gotten help earlier.
Victoria* shared and said, “I am afraid of telling anyone close what’s happening anymore, because the last time I tried I was told that I have become ungrateful, so I continue to struggle with my PPD in silence. I feel so alone.”
The stigma associated with maternal mental illness means that moms feel ashamed for seeking help, and end up keeping it to themselves. The truth is that there is no shame in reaching out for help, and if you have PPD, please know you are not alone!
At PPDKenya, we understand what you are going through. We are here to walk the journey with you. We will help you get the help you need. Get in touch using our Contact Page.