Meghan Markle Brings Awareness to Mental Health Struggles During Pregnancy
In their interview with Oprah Winfrey, Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, discussed her struggle with mental health issues, including suicidal thoughts, during her first pregnancy. Whatever their circumstances, pregnant women often are overlooked when it comes to mental health struggles, yet are a clinically high-risk population for depression, anxiety and other mood disorders.
Between 10 percent and 20 percent of women will experience depression during pregnancy, and for one-third of these patients, it will be their first time dealing with feelings of depression. Without understanding how depression is affecting them, women may feel:
Isolated and alone
Self-critical, including hopeless self-talk (for example, “Why I can’t pull myself out of this?”)
Guilty for not being happy
Hopeless about the present and future
Like a burden on others
Suicidal thoughts or preoccupations about self-harm, like the ones the Duchess of Sussex mentioned in her interview, affect up to a third of the pregnant women seeking help for their mental health. That struggle also impacts women after they give birth. Suicide is among the top four causes of maternal death during the first year after childbirth.
Watch for These Warning Signs
In the interview, Meghan said that when she started having suicidal thoughts during her pregnancy, her course of action was to reach out for help. Unfortunately, all too often women don’t feel empowered to ask for help when they are experiencing symptoms of depression, or they may feel guilty about their feelings, so they keep it to themselves.
Here are some signs for family members and friends to look out for:
Constant sadness, crying
Changes in eating patterns, not feeling hungry or eating despite knowing it is good for the developing baby
Inability to focus and be present in life
With a watchful eye, close members of the woman’s support system can flag potential problems and encourage action, or simply lend a compassionate ear to their loved one before the issue becomes dangerous to mother and child.
Mental Health, Physical Effects
Untreated depression carries physical risks to the mother and child. Obstetrical risks include a higher instance of pre-term labor, higher miscarriage rates and post-delivery complications.
If a pregnant woman is depressed, she’s also less likely to take good care of her growing baby, which can result in lower birth weight. Self-medication, usually through drugs or alcohol, is also a risk to the unborn.
Find Your Support System
Smashing the stigma associated with depression in pregnancy is the first step in bringing these issues to light and empowering women to come forward about their struggles. A pregnant woman should be encouraged to engage in conversation with her doctor and with her partner about the feelings she is experiencing and any concerns she might have.
Depression is never a sign of weakness. Asking for help shows strength and courage, especially during a time typically seen as “happy.”
You are not alone. If talking about it feels like too big a task, write it down and share your written thoughts with your healthcare team. It starts with taking that first step and reaching out to professionals, supportive friends and family members.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, help is available. Please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. Someone will answer 24 hours a day.
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