Written by Tarra Bates-Duford, PH.D., MFT
Originally published at Psych Central on September 19, 2016
Mental illness continues to be an ongoing concern and struggle for many people, some seeking help and treatment, others suffering in silence. Persons with a history of mental illness or with a current severe and persistent mental illness are more likely to become ill or symptomatic during pregnancy. Although, some individuals carrying a diagnosis of mental illness may avoid becoming symptomatic during pregnancy they are also more likely to re-experience symptoms related to mental illness within the first year after giving birth than at other time in their life. Severe mental health problems include but are not limited to chronic and severe depression, bipolar disorder, psychotic disorder, etc. Unfortunately, following the birth of a child some mental illnesses may become progressive and more severe than at any other time.
Pregnancy is often thought of as an exciting blissful time in a woman’s life, however, for those struggling with mental illness pregnancy can feel anything but blissful. Symptoms related to mental illness during pregnancy can be very a very scary and confusing time for both pregnant women and families. It is well documented that pregnancy and the peripartum are not only a time when preexisting mental illness will persist but it is also a high-risk period for renewed episodes of mental illness or relapse.
Notably, other less severe mental illnesses may also become triggered during pregnancy, more pronounced and severe. Hence, it is very important to monitor mood, as well as psychological, and behavioral changes duringpregnancy. It is also important to partner with a physician to properly isolate behavioral and emotional changes associated with hormonal changes due to pregnancy and those associated with mental illness. Regular and consistent appointments with a mental health professional can help pregnant women identify as well as understand the psychological and emotional changes taking place.
Negative stigma’s associated with mental illness is often a motivating factor or a source of fear for many mentally ill pregnant women to avoid treatment or discussing symptoms. Many pregnant women diagnosed with a mental illness fear being labeled as “crazy” or unfit to care for their child, hence the reason they may not seek mental health services. Unlike at any other time in their life, pregnant women may feel more vulnerable and anxious while pregnant and even after the birth of a child. Some women may even stop taking psychotropic medications on their own because of fear of harming their unborn child. However, discontinuance of medication should only be done after consulting with a doctor as mental illness may return or become exacerbated. Treatment for mental health related problems in pregnancy and after giving birth can include counseling and psychological therapy as well as medication. Taking any type of medication during pregnancy, especially some medications in excess can carry risks for your unborn baby, but if you don’t take medication that has been prescribed for you, or you stop taking it, there is a risk that you might become seriously unwell and this can be a risk as well.
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