Untold Stories of Maternal Mental Health

Written by: Pansiluni Weerawansa

Photo by MEimage on iStock

“In many countries, as many as 1 in 5 new mothers experiences some type of perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (World Maternal Mental Health, 2024)”. 

Motherhood is often painted as a blissful journey where a woman feels complete and fulfilled. However, beneath the joyful family photographs of mothers brimming with happiness holding onto their infants, myriads of mothers’ struggle with their mental health. Conditions such as postpartum depression, anxiety, and even psychosis affect countless women worldwide. Yet, it remains a topic shrouded in stigma and misunderstanding. Addressing maternal mental health is not just about supporting mothers — it’s about healthy growth as families and nurturing a healthier society.

The transition into motherhood is profound and transformative, often accompanied by a wide array of vivid emotions. While joy and love are commonly experienced, many mothers also face anxiety, fear, and overwhelming stress. Maternal mental health issues can manifest in various forms:

  • Postpartum Depression (PPD): Awareness of postpartum depression first arose in the late 1980s. Characterised by persistent sadness, fatigue, and loss of interest in activities, approximately 1 in 10 women will experience postpartum depression after giving birth, with some studies reporting 1 in 7 women (Carberg, 2024). Unlike the “baby blues” which typically resolve within two weeks, PPD can last for approximately 3–5 months and severely impact a mother’s ability to care for herself and her baby.
  • Postpartum Anxiety: This condition involves excessive worries about the baby’s health, financial stability, their ability to be an effective mother, and other daily stressors, leading to insomnia, irritability, and physical symptoms like a rapid heartbeat. It can coexist with or occur independently of postpartum depression. Similarly, the sharp decrease in hormones after delivery can cause changes in mood or overreactions to stress. 
  • Postpartum Psychosis: Though rare, this severe condition involves hallucinations, delusions, and extreme mood swings. It requires immediate medical attention as it poses risks to both the mother and her child.
  • Birth Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Traumatic birth experiences can lead to PTSD, characterised by flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety related to the birth process.  

Raising awareness about maternal mental health is crucial to breaking the stigma and ensuring that mothers receive the support they need. Here are some strategies to promote understanding and compassion:

  • Public Campaigns: Nationwide campaigns, similar to those for breast cancer awareness, can educate the public about maternal mental health. Many individuals are wholly unaware and ignorant of maternal mental health issues. Using media platforms to share real stories can humanise the issue and encourage empathy.
  • Healthcare Provider Training: Ensuring that healthcare professionals are trained to recognise and address maternal mental health issues is vital. It is estimated that nearly 50% of mothers with postpartum depression are not diagnosed by a health professional. Routine screening for postpartum depression and anxiety during prenatal and postnatal visits can help in early identification and intervention.
  • Community Programs: Establishing support groups and community programs can provide mothers with a safe space to share their experiences and feelings. Peer support is invaluable in combating isolation and fostering a sense of community.
  • Educational Workshops: Offering workshops and seminars for expectant and new parents can prepare them for the emotional challenges of parenthood. These programs should include information on recognising symptoms and seeking help.

Coping with Maternal Mental Health Issues as a mother

Dealing with maternal mental health challenges can be daunting, but several coping strategies can make a significant difference. 

  • Seek Professional Help: Consulting a mental health professional is crucial. Therapists, counsellors, and psychiatrists can offer tailored support, whether through talk therapy, medication, or a combination of treatments.
  • Build a Support Network: Surrounding oneself with supportive friends, family, and fellow mothers can provide emotional sustenance. Don’t hesitate to ask for help with childcare or household chores.
  • Self-Care: Prioritising self-care is essential. This might include activities such as regular exercise, adequate sleep, healthy eating, and engaging in hobbies that bring joy and relaxation.
  • Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques: Practices such as yoga, meditation, and deep-breathing exercises can help manage stress and anxiety, promoting a sense of calm and well-being.
  • Educate Yourself: Understanding the nature of your mental health condition can be empowering. Reading about maternal mental health and learning coping strategies can alleviate some of the fear and confusion associated with these challenges.

How can we support mothers? 

Helping mothers navigate their mental health struggles requires a collective effort from families, communities, and society as a whole. Here are some ways to offer support:

  • Listen and Validate: Sometimes, the most powerful form of support is simply listening. Acknowledge their feelings without judgement and offer empathy and understanding.
  • Offer Practical Help: Small acts of kindness, such as cooking a meal, babysitting, or running errands, can relieve some of the daily pressures mothers face.
  • Encourage Professional Help: Gently encourage seeking professional support if needed. Offer to help them find a therapist or accompany them to appointments if they feel anxious about going alone.
  • Create Safe Spaces: Foster environments where mothers feel safe to express their feelings without the fear of stigma or judgement. This can be within family circles, community groups, or online forums.

Addressing maternal mental health is crucial for generations. Supporting mothers promotes healthier families and resilient communities. Through collective action, awareness campaigns, and robust support systems, we can create a world where every mother feels valued and empowered to seek help without shame.

Open dialogues and prioritising maternal mental health policies break down stigma and silence. This shift ensures maternal mental health is acknowledged and treated with care. Investing in maternal mental health leads to stronger, connected families. By prioritising this issue, we honour motherhood and build a more understanding and inclusive world.


World Maternal Mental Health (2024) About World Maternal Mental Health Day.  https://wmmhday.postpartum.net/

Carberg J. (2024) Statistics on Postpartum Depression https://www.postpartumdepression.org/resources/statistics/