Post-natal depression and the difficulties it can cause, is now being recognised as a significant but treatable condition. It affects up to 15 % of mothers yet early intervention can bring about profound and lasting change.
Tim Lott, author of the poignant memoir The Scent of Dried Roses, charting a lifelong depressive illness, writes,”… I haven’t suffered postnatal depression – but I have suffered from it.”
His recent article in the Guardian draws attention, not only to the limited care of women who suffer post-natal depression, but also to what he calls “the scandal” of the impact of this illness on babies.
When he accessed his mother’s medical records after her death, he discovered she had suffered some form of post-natal psychosis for the first three years of his life. However, the profound effect it had on her baby was overlooked. The legacy of this for Tim, was 50 years of “being pinned to a bed by your own mind unable to think anything but the blackest thoughts.”
Babies are acutely sensitive to their mother’s faces and a mother suffering post-natal depression is unlikely to be able to mirror or empathise with her baby’s needs and experiences. These babies have no way of being emotionally contained since their mother’s own emotional world has been turned upside down. Mothers suffering from post-natal depression need empathic support and guidance.
We now have a wealth of evidence indicating that the future mental health of babies is at risk when a mother has a depressive illness, so having access to highly sensitive therapeutic work is paramount, not only for them and their babies but also with the inclusion of fathers.