Gina Davidson: Mums should not suffer alone

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IT was a few months after the birth of my third child that I went to the doctor.

The rage which would descend should my other two kids misbehave – really serious stuff like refusing to get dressed, clean their teeth or put their shoes on quickly – was out of hand. I was growing extremely concerned that my shouts and yells would become something else, something more physical. Furthermore I was worried that seeing their usually level-headed mum just “lose it” was damaging them in ways I couldn’t see and who knows how all the angry noise was affecting my baby son.

My GP was hugely understanding. You are just exhausted, you need to sleep, she said. It’s all perfectly normal, just try and sleep more often.

Easier said than done with three kids aged five and under, but she was right. I was exhausted, so my temper didn’t just fray – it snapped immediately.

And once I realised that it was tiredness and not something more concerning, like postnatal depression (PND), I was able to manage it, and myself much better.

But anger is a symptom of PND. It’s not just a crumpled woman sitting on her crumpled bed, head in hands, softly crying while her baby wails in a cot next door. Anger is a real issue for those who do suffer PND, and anything can bring it on – things that wouldn’t normally concern you become major and you can experience a rage you have never felt before, and certainly not towards the people you love.

Then there is the other extreme: simply feeling nothing. Having no emotion, feeling as though you’re going through the motions but in a bubble. Disconnected, empty, numb.

PND is an incredibly serious illness, and yet there is still too little support available for women – and men – who suffer. Although cases are rare, untreated it can lead to suicide or infanticide.

PND starts around four weeks after the birth, but it can come on months later, which is why the case of Erin Sutherland and her baby Chloe is so tragic. Erin suffocated her nine-month-old daughter in February this year.

It’s a horrific story, made even more so by the fact that Erin had previously suffered PND after the birth of her first child. It was so bad that when the baby was eight months she became a hospital inpatient. It’s well known that if a woman suffers PND after one baby she has a greater than average chance of it happening again. So where was the support for Erin and Chloe?

Her GP did the right things and Erin was receiving some counselling. But when it became obvious things were escalating, and her doctor contacted a mental health team trying to get her an appointment with a community psychiatric nurse. It was refused because Chloe was older than six months.

How can there be a time limit on the help offered to women with PND? Who says that you’ve got six months to show the symptoms and after that you’re on your own? How can that possibly be the mental health service we offer to people in such distress?

Around 35,000 new mums suffer PND every year, most in silence because of the stigma attached to the illness. They seek no help - it’s surprising there aren’t more cases like Erin and Chloe’s.

Even those who do get help find that professional services are rare. In Edinburgh, aside from hospital services, there’s only one place offering help. So Crossreach, part of the Church of Scotland’s social care network, has four-month-long waiting lists to even begin to see a counsellor on a one-to-one basis. Without it there would be nothing.

This is a situation that has to change. Erin and Chloe’s awful case is rare, but we should be just as appalled at the fact that our society allows people to deal with mental health problems on their own.

Forward steps

Great to see real creative thinking behind the reopening of the High School Yards steps which have been shut for 12, very long, years. The installation by artist Callum Innes sounds a lot of fun – and is a great addition to the city’s World Heritage Centre. Let’s hope the antisocial behaviour which closed the steps in the first place doesn’t return.

Setting gold standard for school uniform

iT was news to me that my old high school no longer had a strict uniform policy and was seeking parental views on introducing one.

When I went to James Gillespie’s school tie, jumper and blazer was very much expected, until you were at the top end of the school when it was slightly relaxed. Unless you were a prefect, when gold braid was stitched round the edge of your blazer.

This must have fallen by the wayside in recent years, and now it might be reintroduced. I’d say go for it Gillespie’s. Muriel Spark would be delighted.

Great day for our future engineers

Met some very sparky primary seven girls from Craigroyston, Pirniehall and Forthview primaries earlier in the week as they attended a special day at Selex ES to mark National Women in Engineering Day.

They seemed incredibly interested in the robotics and rocket building – and then they got to meet Prince Charles too. Even if they don’t all become engineers, it will be a day they’ll never forget.