By Henry Brookman, Brookman Solicitors
Recent statistics have shown that around 10-20 percent of women have been known to suffer with mental health issues, in particular ‘perinatal’ mental health issues, which can occur throughout pregnancy, following birth and into the first 12 months. Perinatal mental health covers a vast array of conditions including but not limited to, depression, anxiety, bipolar, schizophrenia and eating disorders. If you feel your partner might be struggling and could be showing signs of perinatal mental health problems, here is some advice to aid you in supporting them through this difficult time.
Recognizing the symptoms
Maternal mental health symptoms will vary between each individual which is why you will have to decipher what you class as ‘abnormal’ behavior for them. Your energetic and talkative partner might have become more quiet, shying away from interactions with others. She might have experienced a change in temperament, becoming more angry or quick to lose her temper to situations she would usually have more patience. Or perhaps she is becoming more emotional, worrying about issues that might not seem as significant to others around her. It’s also worth noting that maternal mental health conditions can come about unexpectedly, in addition to being triggered by past experiences or previous mental health problems.
Understanding the causes
There is not always a clear underlying cause for maternal health problems, but in some cases they can develop from past trauma, particularly in previous pregnancies. This can include complications when trying to become pregnant as well difficulties or scares throughout the pregnancy, suffering from injuries during birth or delivering a child with serious birth defects, or the loss of a child through miscarriage or stillbirth. Initially, it is common for the mother to take the blame in these situations, thinking if they could have done anything different, such as looking after their own well being or investigating symptoms sooner. Sadly, the fact is many of these circumstances are completely out of their control. Grief following child loss can be truly insufferable, and can lead to the breakdown of relationships with other family members, friends but especially their partner. It can have an adverse effect on areas such as intimacy, communication and even time spent with existing children. For a father, it can also be a difficult time as they may be battling their own grief as well as trying to support the family unit.
The path to overcoming maternal mental health problems
It is good to keep in mind that the symptoms of maternal mental health issues in women generally respond well to treatments and counseling, so recovery can occur quickly. Responses are better when symptoms are identified early, highlighting the importance of recognizing the signs in your partner. Talk-based therapies or psychotherapy will primarily be the first treatment option with some cases resulting in taking medication in conjunction to help manage particular symptoms. It is common with mental health problems for the individual to be scared themselves, in the thoughts they are having or to the prospect of opening up to others. During this time the best way to provide support is to be reassuring, helping them to understand that the way they are currently feeling is out of character to their normal self, but will heal in time. Providing an environment that makes your partner feel comfortable and safe will enable them to share their feelings with you and others, which will help them start the road to recovery.
Once your partner has recognized the need for help and support, the next steps would be to encourage them to book an appointment with a health professional. This might be daunting, but determining an official diagnosis is important in ensuring that the correct support is in place to aid recovery.
Taking care of yourself
When caring for a partner or family member with mental health issues it is easy to neglect yourself, leading to adverse effects on your own emotional or physical well-being. As a partner to someone experiencing maternal mental health problems the pressure can easily take its toll, especially when juggling working commitments and upholding normal family life. Making sure you find time to rest, most importantly factoring in sufficient amounts of sleep, maintaining a healthy diet and engaging in regular exercise, can all help you to keep your own health in check and stress levels to a minimum. Remember, family and friends will all want to help so take advantage of this.
Rekindling your relationship
The effects of maternal mental health problems can often place a strain on couples and sadly, can result in separation or divorce. Aspects such as intimacy, sleep, work, social time and looking after children can hinder a relationship at the best of times. If you feel you are struggling to restore these areas and want to rebuild a connection with your partner there are avenues you can explore as a couple. Relationship counseling is an option to consider, allowing you both to speak openly about your feelings, and investigate the deeper reasons your relationship might be leading to a potential breakdown.
If you find you have followed these steps and after the help and advice from professionals, you feel that the relationship has reached an end, there are family lawyers who specialize in providing empathetic services which factor in the presence of mental health problems. Finding the right lawyer is critical when dealing with sensitive situations, so make sure take the time to fully understand your circumstances, wishes and intentions before engaging them to represent you.
About the Author
Henry Brookman is a divorce solicitor and senior partner at Brookman, a highly experienced family law firm, with expertise in a full range of family legal matters including divorce in the UK and internationally, complex financial issues, property settlements and children’s matters. Brookman is ranked by the Legal 500 and has been awarded the Law Society’s quality mark, Lexcel. For more information visit www.brookman.co.uk.