Late last year an interesting article on The victoria Derbyshire Show struck me as it dealt with the issue of postnatal PTSD.
I am not at all surprised by the prevalence of postnatal PTSD.
It is important to understand that PTSD does not have to involve experiences of violence, war or car accidents. It can occur following any event that a person is overwhelmed by and cannot properly emotionally and cognitively process. Of course, an event such as being shot at may give rise to a greater tendency to suffer from PTSD but that doesn’t mean it cannot happen as a result of, for example, a bereavement, a divorce or child birth.
Child birth is, according to a consultant orthopaedic physician I spoke to, “one of the most dangerous processes a woman can put her body through” which should get the attention of everyone involved of how a woman may potentially respond. Thirty thousand women a year are diagnosed with postnatal PTSD and those are just the women who are diagnosed so this is not a trivial issue. Dr. Rebecca Moore, a psychiatrist who specializes in perinatal mental health speaking on BBC news says that more needs to be done nationwide to improve perinatal care.
It goes without saying that many women give birth and have no ill effects, even enjoying the experience but so do soldiers on tour. For those women who do not have positive experiences in childbirth and go on to show symptoms of PTSD they need sympathy from loved ones and care and effective treatment from trained professionals otherwise the symptoms and implications can go on for years.
As a trauma practitioner I would place the women who have been unfortunate enough to suffer from this in the same category as those I have treated suffering from relationship break ups; that they do not automatically generate the same levels of sympathy from those around them; that people are likely to say, ‘come on, what’s wrong with you?’ This is not at all helpful and demonstrates a lack of understanding of what trauma is. As I mentioned before, trauma happens when an individual is emotionally overwhelmed by an experience and then cannot make sense of or integrate the experience into the fabric of who they are and what this experience has come to mean to them.
Some symptoms may resemble postnatal depression such as withdrawal behaviours and mood swings but postnatal PTSD may include flashbacks, hyper vigilance and extreme anxiety about their or their baby’s safety. Prompt diagnosis is a key to helping these women, as well as seeing a trained trauma specialist subsequently.
Midwives and obstetricians will play a key role in flagging potential for PTSD to GPs as they are present and ought to be more aware of the potential risks to the mother following a difficult birth.
PTSD is one of the most debilitating of mental health conditions. Postnatal PTSD is perhaps made even more devastating because it comes at a time in a family’s life when happiness should abound.
Please feel free to share your thoughts and comments.