May is Maternal Mental Health Month and figures suggest that between 10-20% of women experience perinatal mental health problems during pregnancy and the first year after having a baby. From the more common mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, through to more severe depressive illnesses, schizophrenia and bipolar, the impact of maternal mental health on families, relationships and society are significant. Family legal expert Henry Brookman explains more.

Health on Female First

Health on Female First

The Scope of Maternal Mental Health

Most people are familiar with the phrase 'Post-Natal Depression' and it is widely accepted as a common condition faced by mothers following the birth of a child. However, there are many more conditions which fall within the 'perinatal' period, which essentially means the time from the beginning of pregnancy up to around a year after giving birth. Other familiar terms include 'postpartum' (similar to postnatal) and 'antenatal' or 'prenatal', which relate to any time in the pregnancy prior to birth.

Perinatal mental health problems can include depression, anxiety, OCD, psychosis, PTSD and eating disorders, to name just a few. These conditions can occur for the first time during this period, or may be linked to previous conditions, experiences or abuse suffered prior to pregnancy.

Traumatic experiences

Maternal mental health issues often occur after a normal pregnancy and birth, but they can also be triggered by a specific traumatic event or experience. These could range from complications with the mother to the loss of the child. Grief affects people in many different ways and mothers could experience guilt and blame that it was in some way their fault. They may find it difficult or impossible to be intimate with their partner in following months, particularly if the pregnancy was in the later stages. This can have a direct effect on their relationship with their partner and can cause some to break down completely, resulting in separation or divorce.

This situation can further fuel maternal mental health issues as in addition to their existing challenges, they may then have to face additional financial pressures, the emotional impact of the divorce process, potential conflicts in co-parenting existing children and generally adjusting to life without their partner.

Dealing with Maternal Mental Health

Whether you are personally suffering with maternal mental health, or know of someone who is, the first step is to know that for the vast majority of sufferers, the condition is likely to be temporary. It is also usually treatable, and particularly so if identified early and the appropriate intervention is put in place quickly. This is to prevent the condition from developing and becoming more complex, which can often happen with mental health conditions that become chronic and are left untreated for extended periods of time.

Mothers who are experiencing symptoms of mental ill-health should always book in an appointment with their GP or discuss with their health visitor if they are still under their care. They will be able to advise on the best course of action, which will likely be in the form of therapy or counselling. In some cases medication will also be prescribed to help alleviate the symptoms.

There are also a number of specialist charities who can offer help for specific circumstances, including the Birth Trauma AssociationSANDS and The Fatherhood Institute.

Salvaging Relationships

Maternal mental health issues can often affect a mother's closest relationships, including with partners, friends, family and even their own children. If you are struggling to maintain your relationship in the midst of mental health issues and are worried that divorce or separation may result, it is important to consider options such as counselling before making any firm decisions. Charities such as Relate, can offer impartial support and advice to help you work through your difficulties. If you find that divorce is the right decision, be sure to seek out the services of a legal firm which specialises in family matters and ideally has experience in dealing with cases which involve instances of mental health issues, as they are likely to be much more understanding and empathetic.

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

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