Mind

PANDAS on perinatal mental health

Perinatal mental illness can be frightening subject to experience and whether it concerns a parent, friend, colleague or neighbour, we all have varying levels of mental health resilience.

Perinatal mental illness is a diagnosis which can occur at any time between conception through to birth and beyond. NHS England supports perinatal mental illness up to one year postpartum however, PANDAS has evidence that it can last up to three years postpartum. The definitions and types of perinatal illness can include but not be exhaustive of:

  • Pre-natal depression and anxiety

  • Postnatal depression

  • Maternal obsessive-compulsive disorder

  • Birth trauma

  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

  • Postpartum psychosis

Whilst stigma is reducing around mental health, perinatal mental illness is an illness which, if left untreated, can have a significant and long-lasting effect on parents.

Many female parents develop symptoms of perinatal illness during and beyond pregnancy and these can include, but not be limited to:

  • Low mood and anxiety

  • Depression

  • Daily feelings of worthlessness and frightening thoughts

  • Struggling to bond with their baby

  • Self-harm and suicidal thoughts

  • Hopelessness

Dads can experience perinatal mental illness too

More men are now feeling able and open to talk about mental health. In recent times, PANDAS Foundation has seen a significant rise in the number of male parents concerned around their own or another person’s perinatal mental illness.

Suicide is still the number one cause of death within the first maternal year postpartum and the increase in education and knowledge around serious illnesses such as perinatal mental illness is meaning that more parents are opening up and seeking advice and support for their mental health.

Support for perinatal mental illness

Many parents experience loneliness and isolation during and beyond pregnancy, feel a loss of identity and can struggle to regulate their feelings after birth, particularly if the experience was traumatic.

A range of support and treatments are available to help people with postnatal depression. If you think you or your partner might be suffering from PND, you can speak to your GP or health visitor.
Treatments can include:

  • Talking therapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

  • Medication, most likely to be antidepressants

  • Self-help such as talking to your family and friends, making time for yourself to do the things you enjoy and regular exercise

Peer support – PANDAS

PANDAS Foundation offers a free, inclusive-to-all peer to peer support service available for all parents and their networks who are struggling with their perinatal mental illness.

Pandas Foundation is the leading UK charity in supporting families suffering from pre and postnatal depression and anxiety and offers sufferers and their families support and advice to help aid their recovery. Its aim is to make sure that no individual, family or carer feels as if they are alone, whether through support and advice by email, Pandas Helpline, or at a Pandas Support Group. No one suffering any form of mental illness should feel they are on their own and we want there to be something out there which can help every Mum, Dad and their families.

Acting as an early intervention service, we are able to provide hope, empathy and signposting for everyone.
PANDAS Foundation is run by a small management team and has a large pool of trained individuals who are safeguarded and educated around the topic perinatal mental illness, offering a safe space to listen to parents and their networks who may be struggling.

Additional perinatal mental health coping mechanisms

In addition to seeking external support, there are some additional things that you can implement on a personal level to help manage perinatal mental illness and we would encourage individuals to:

  • Create boundaries online. We are heavily reliant on social media as a motivator, but it is crucial for parents who may be struggling with their perinatal mental health to set boundaries to avoid possible triggers that could cause setbacks. Make sure you are following positive, inspirational and comparison-free social media.

  • Practice self-care. We are encouraging parents to remember the person behind the parent (you) in all of this. Take time to acknowledge yourself and do at least one thing – no matter how big or small – per day to focus on yourself and remove any guilt.

  • Acknowledge thoughts and feelings, accept them and ask for support with one person who you feel able to. Allow yourself time and give yourself the energy to know that you can't achieve every single thing you would like to in an ideal world. Don't be hard on yourself and know that every parent is in this together.

  • Join PANDAS social media channel via Facebook for daily positive and motivational content

PANDAS relies on donations to keep going and more information about all of its services can be found via its website www.pandasfoundation.org.uk.