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A Closer Look Into Postpartum Mental Health in India

It is said that when a child is born, a mother is also born from a woman. Childbirth has always been regarded as a physically agonizing and excruciatingly painful process. However, as a society, we have again failed to acknowledge the mental crisis women go through in this beautiful yet miserable journey. The magazine covers and movies only showed ecstatic young mothers welcoming a newborn effortlessly into their lives. As I grew up, the number of times postpartum depression was discussed and regarded increased, but only in developed countries that had the privileges of a stable economy and healthcare. Not in my homeland, India, and certainly not when my mother needed it the most. Her experiences included a struggle to get used to life after childbirth with her firstborn and feelings of loneliness, sorrow, and gloominess. But what hurt the most about her journey was that no one understood what she was going through, and she couldn’t identify this disorder on her own. Because they had never, not once in their lives, heard about postpartum depression or blues, including the symptoms of it. Her health was prioritized, but her mental needs remained unaddressed. A young mother who went through this emotional turmoil couldn’t explain and didn’t know enough about this disorder to explain what was going on. Thankfully, my mother was one of the women lucky enough to slowly come back to normal after a few months, but that wasn’t and isn’t still the case for other Indian mothers.

Globally, it is estimated that one in seven women develops postnatal depression. The unfortunate fact is that, in India, it is closer to one in five women. According to an analysis done in hospitals in rural areas of the country, risk factors for postpartum depression included financial difficulties, the presence of domestic violence, a past history of psychiatric illness in mothers, marital conflict, a lack of support from husbands, and the birth of a female baby. Studies show that a lot can also be attributed to the fact that India is still a developing country. As fast as it is improving in terms of medical facilities, the lack of high-quality treatment for this disorder is still not available. The closest the government could offer, even under the category of general mental health, was the launch of a national mental health program in 1982. The only forms of official help for mothers come from under this program. No further development has been done specifically for postpartum mental health, despite having a highly popularized ministry of women and child development. A lot of the government's past focuses have been on reducing maternal mortality rates, as it was the primary issue looming over public health in the late 1900s.

The symptoms of postpartum depression include insomnia, loss of appetite, intense irritability, and difficulty bonding with the baby. However, these can vary according to how extreme the case is. According to the National Library of Medicine, “Dedicated maternal mental health services are largely deficient in health-care facilities, and health workers lack mental health training. The availability of mental health specialists is limited or nonexistent in peripheral health-care facilities. Furthermore, there is currently no screening tool designated for use in clinical practice and no data are routinely collected on the proportion of perinatal women with postpartum depression.” The lack of systematic evidence also leads to gaps in data published for the common public, causing them to be unaware of the chances of this disorder.

While all the external factors prove to be involved in the disorder, the affected woman not receiving support from immediate family and friends only worsens the issue. The problem is that those who surround this new mother in her life do not understand or empathize with her emotions due to a lack of postpartum mental health literacy. The more dismissed her symptoms become in her own safe space, the more she will struggle. Even the mother not being able to recognize her illness can worsen symptoms of depression and hinder professional help-seeking behaviors. In extreme cases, this could even lead to a stage where the mother might consider self-harm or child-harm. Therefore, this is no condition that can be left unaddressed by Indian public health management. 

There is a lot to be done, but the first step starts with education. Without postpartum health literacy, neither identification nor professional help can be provided. The public should be educated on the symptoms, support methods, and normalization of this problem. The next thing that needs to be initiated is the installation of adequate professional treatments specifically for this disorder. The same advanced procedures made in developed countries to accommodate this disorder should be introduced to India and other developing countries as soon as possible. An example of this would be the integration of self-assessments, surveys, etc. The third step would be to encourage more research, data collection, and the addition of new public health programs and facilities targeted at maternal mental health by the government of India. What we can do as individuals with the privilege of having access to social media would be to promote awareness on the topic and urge global action through international organizations to focus on less developed countries. As young girls who yearn to change the world to be a better place for future women, let’s bring this to light and extend a helping hand to the wonderful women of India in their journey of motherhood.

Vismaya Praveen Nair

Bentonville, AR

Instagram: @vismayaaa_nair

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