Saturday, January 21, 2012

Motherhood and Mental Health

Mental illness.... and motherhood. Not something one would think to include in the same sentence, right? Not many seem to talk about it, in fact, not many women are taken too seriously when they tell people that they have a mental illness. Any why would they be taken seriously? After all, the phrase equals "sick in the head".

There is some unspoken expectation that mothers need to have it all "together" or they are deemed unstable. Even a mother that doesn't have a mental illness won't have everything perfect. A mother with a mental illness has many obstacles that a mother without an illness might not ever worry about. Bouts of uncontrollable, unexplainable depression, mood swings, fits of rage, fatigue, impulsive and harmful behavior.

All of these are things that mothers with an illness deal with, on top of other daily mothering duties. The isolation, some explain kills. Anxiety of meeting new people and feeling like they'll be rejected for no reason. Having to hide their mental illness for fear of rejection is another one. Everybody needs to vent or just let someone know what we're feeling. What happens when mommy is too afraid of not being accepted?

Having patience to cope with being a mom to small children is an obstacle that diagnosed mothers find difficult to hurtle. Some will go into fits of rage, out of inability to deal with overwhelming emotions. Some children get hurt, others end up fearing their mother. If this happens, the mother will feel that they need to bottle these emotions, to hide their illness from their children. One mom shares her experience with hiding Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) from her young children:

"Being a mum is the best thing that could happen to me but the worst is hiding a mental illness from them and when your son asks why are you sad or angry for? having to lie to protect him by saying oh my thyroids are playing up! Or they want to play with you but your just not up to it and seeing there disappointment at you! But my kids have made my last few days worth living seeing their smiles makes me smile knowing no matter how hard it gets they are there to pick me back up."
Borderline Personality Disorder is believed to be caused by early childhood and adolescent trauma. It seems to occur more in women, and this makes the diagnosis more prevelant in women with children. A study of mothers with BPD that went untreated, or not treated properly had less responsive or less positive responsiveness in infants when interacting with strangers. Symptoms of BPD include, but are not limited to:

  • Impulsive and risky behavior, such as risky driving, unsafe sex, gambling sprees or illegal drug use
  • Strong emotions that wax and wane frequently
  • Intense but short episodes of anxiety or depression
  • Inappropriate anger, sometimes escalating into physical confrontations
  • Difficulty controlling emotions or impulses
  • Suicidal behavior
  • Fear of being alone

  • A mother explains how her Bipolar has affected her motherhood in a negative way by saying, '"My 'episodes' have altered and changed my everyday life before I even had time to digest my own thoughts. I feel like I don't deserve my children. I made them go live with their Father. I still see them but I don't think I'm good enough for them. That's just the tip..."'

    Many Bipolar patients seek help either by themselves, or are ordered by the courts to do so, for the well-being of their young family. Not receiving treatment for Bipolar is not only damaging, but can result in death, due to manic depressive episodes. Some Bipolar patients describe their episodes as an '"out of body, or 2nd personality experience."' This means that while the person is hyper-manic or manic depressive(highs and lows) what they feel isn't a part of them. They feel like they are another person and what they do doesn't affect anyone else. Their actions aren't selfish, because they have almost no control over what they do. There are three different types of Bipolar. Type 1 is the most severe, making it hard to hold jobs and be consistent with everyday life. Type 2 is alot less serious, with sudden mood change. And also, Cyclothymic disorder or Cyclothymia is the least severe, with less dramatic highs and lows.  Symptoms of Bipolar are:

    Other symptoms include seasonal changes in mood, psychosis, and rapid cycling bipolar disorder.

  • Euphoria
  • Inflated self-esteem
  • Poor judgment
  • Rapid speech
  • Racing thoughts
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Agitation or irritation
  • Increased physical activity
  • Risky behavior
  • Spending sprees or unwise financial choices
  • Increased drive to perform or achieve goals
  • Increased sex drive
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Easily distracted
  • Careless or dangerous use of drugs or alcohol
  • Frequent absences from work or school
  • Delusions or a break from reality (psychosis)
  • Sadness
  • Hopelessness
  • Suicidal thoughts or behavior
  • Anxiety
  • Guilt
  • Sleep problems
  • Low appetite or increased appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of interest in activities once considered enjoyable
  • Problems concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Chronic pain without a known cause
  • Frequent absences from work or school
  • Poor performance at work or school

  • Depression is often self-explanatory. Treatment for depression varies widely from using Lithium or even medical marijuana. Treatment for clinical depression is crucial. We all know what untreated depression can result in. Here are some symptoms and cause for concern of a family member:

  • Feelings of sadness or unhappiness
  • Irritability or frustration, even over small matters
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Insomnia or excessive sleeping
  • Changes in appetite — depression often causes decreased appetite and weight loss, but in some people it causes increased cravings for food and weight gain
  • Agitation or restlessness — for example, pacing, hand-wringing or an inability to sit still
  • Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
  • Indecisiveness, distractibility and decreased concentration
  • Fatigue, tiredness and loss of energy — even small tasks may seem to require a lot of effort
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or blaming yourself when things aren't going right
  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
  • Frequent thoughts of death, dying or suicide
  • Crying spells for no apparent reason
  • Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches

  • Postpartum Depression is another mental health issue that many new mothers seem to overlook. It is very serious, and can lead to harm to mother or baby. The mother feels extreme guilt for not being happy with her new baby, and for not wanting to take care of the baby.

  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Intense irritability and anger
  • Overwhelming fatigue
  • Loss of interest in sex
  • Lack of joy in life
  • Feelings of shame, guilt or inadequacy
  • Severe mood swing
  • Difficulty bonding with the baby
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or the baby

  • Mental illness takes a backseat in alot of cases, when you become a mother. Feeling guilt of taking care of your needs, when your children have needs that go unmet is a major factor in not being treated. Appointments get in the way of soccer games, or buying medications could sometimes come before a new pair of pants or shoes for the kids, etc.

    If you know someone with a mental illess and have trouble tolerating them, just remember that they are sick. They don't have a choice in having this illness, just as much as a diabetic has no choice in having diabetes. People need to educate themselves on mental illness, instead of fearing it. If you ever encounter someone who has trouble accepting your illness, give them some references in which they can educate themselves. Most of the time, reasoning with someone who doesn't understand your illness will not work, and only makes it worse.

    Mothers, it may seem selfish to seek help for your illness, but you're helping your family in the long run. A healthy mommy equals healthy children.

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