Post-Natal Depression in Qatar
Lifting the veil of motherhood pain
My lowest point in life so far was the day I Googled “How to leave my husband and baby.” You see, I’m a happily married woman. I am completely in love with my husband and our little boy, and to many people I have a “perfect” life. However, in the midst of post-natal depression, I couldn’t see this. In fact, I felt like I was nothing, like I had nothing. Outwardly I played along with everyone else and pretended everything was fine, but in my mind I struggled to make it from day to day. And while depression was not something new to me, post-natal depression (like most mental health issues) wasn’t something I could talk about.
Down but not alone
I remember looking at my crying five-month-old and having these horrible thoughts, almost impulses to hurt him, and having to mentally restrain myself. Then there would be the guilt. So much guilt, so much shame that I just prayed constantly that no one would ever know what was going on in my head. It was an emotional roller coaster—anger, disgust, shame and guilt over and over again, until my husband came home and it was time to pretend that everything was normal.
This was my life for months. I wasn’t even aware that I was suffering from post-natal depression (PND). In my mind, this was motherhood and I was here on my own.
But I wasn’t alone. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 13 per cent of women worldwide suffer from postnatal depression within the first year after giving birth. Meanwhile, a 2013 study from Weill Cornell Medical College and Hamad Medical Corporation found that among Arab women in Qatar, the rates of PND are even higher—more than 17 per cent. That means that out of a dozen mums at Dahl al Hamam Park on any given afternoon—chasing their kids, playing hide and seek and pushing strollers—at least one is suffering from PND.
As expats, we are also at a higher risk of developing postnatal depression. PND risk factors include a lack of social support, recent major life changes or events, complications during pregnancy or birth, low self-esteem, difficult infant temperament and a history of depression or anxiety.
What is postnatal depression?
There are three types of postpartum affective disorders: postpartum blues (“baby blues”), postnatal depression and postpartum psychosis. The baby blues are the most common, occurring in 30 to 75 per cent of mothers, only last from a few hours to a few days shortly following birth and do not require specific treatment. Postpartum psychosis is rare, affecting less than 0.2 per cent of mothers, but it is very serious and requires hospitalization.
Meanwhile, postpartum depression begins anytime within the first year, lasts anywhere from a few weeks to months and often requires psychological counselling and treatment. Women with postpartum depression often suffer from poor sleep; identity crises; loss of interest in life and pleasure; poor appetite; thoughts of hurting themselves or their child and feelings of guilt, fear and inadequacy especially pertaining to parenting.
The statistics about postnatal depression and other post-natal mental disorders are scary. Even more so considering that in many cases mothers don’t speak out about their depression and so receive little to no help. In fact, suicide is the leading cause—20 per cent—of maternal deaths in developed countries. Less extreme impacts of PND include an increased in risk for poor physical health, difficulty in adequately caring for themselves and their child and other mental health problems including substance abuse. And PND doesn’t just affect the mothers. Children whose mothers suffer from postnatal depression are at risk for malnutrition, higher rates of disease, infection and hospitalization as well as physical, cognitive, social, behavioural and emotional development problems. Husbands can also experience symptoms of depression, especially when their wives are suffering from PND.
Walking an unknown path
They say the first step to recovery is acknowledgment. If you can’t see there’s an issue, how could you fix it? One day something amazing happened. My husband came home from work and for the first time, was able to see one of my meltdowns. He took my hand, sat with me and said, “Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I think you are suffering from post-natal depression.” Hearing those words out of my husband’s mouth were both liberating and terrifying at the same time. It meant I wasn’t damaged. It allowed me to feel more normal, less of a freak. But also, it showed an illness I wasn’t sure how to deal with on my own. I knew I needed help so I began researching. I started talking more to my family about where I was, how I felt and what I felt I needed to recover, whilst working with health and wellness providers to support my recovery.
Out of the Blues Qatar
During my search for local resources, I came across a PND and antenatal depression (AND) group in Dubai looking for mums to start a support group here, and so Out of the Blues Qatar was born.
Due to the stigma covering mental illnesses, many mums don’t feel comfortable joining in person (or can’t meet us due to logistic issues). Instead, I have visited many mums who needed to talk to someone or were looking for support in their own homes. Our plans are to bring more awareness to PND and AND in Qatar, creating a platform that offers help to anyone going suffering from these mental disorders regardless of nationality, religion or age.
What if you’re in this situation?
Depression is an illness. It is not something you make or choose, let alone something to be ashamed of, so if you, or a loved one, is going through this, here are some tips to start your recovery so that you can enjoy your life and motherhood completely:
- Open up to loved ones. How can we guide you back to a happy place when we don’t know you’re lost? Open up to your spouse, parents, close friends or anyone you trust. Allow yourself to be real and vulnerable, they will take care of you.
- Reach out to others who are also suffering: You are not alone in your struggle. Talking to other mums who have been or are going through the same can really help. There are many local, regional and worldwide communities of women that are going through or have gone through postnatal depression and will support you in getting better. Try Doha Mums, Out of the Blues, Post Natal Depression Awareness and Support Group and Mums Helping Mums.
- Get professional help earlier than later: If your “Baby Blues” doesn’t resolve itself within a few days and you are struggling with motherhood or life, find a professional that can support you back to happiness and health. You can ask your obstetrician or general practitioner for a referral to a psychiatrist or psychologist (there are some who focus on working with PND) or a therapist who can offer you the help you need. There are many options to suit you!
- Dr Noor Dafeah, Psychologist at Hamad Hospital Psychiatry Department, +974 4438-4566/574. You will need a referral from your health centre.
- Dr Husam Qush, Obstetrician, +974 5569-9787, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Dr Maral Yazdandoost, Naturopath, +974 3017-5886, email@example.com
- Carmita Prieto, Life Coach, Contact: +974 5508-3249, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Support your body from the inside out: To put it simply, depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in our brains, and what better way to support our brain chemistry and overall health than with diet and exercise! Going for real food, minimizing highly processed items, taking good quality supplements (using professional guidance) and getting enough exercise can be life changing.
- Be open to the possibility of medication: Although postnatal depression can often be overcome through therapy with a mental health profession or even peer support, antidepressants have also been proven to work. So if a licensed medical professional suggests this as an option, be open to trying it. There’s no shame in using the resources available to help you overcome an illness.
Moving towards happy
This journey has been tough, but now I can honestly say that I feel blessed to have experienced it, because it helped me see other women’s struggles, sadness and shame. It pushed me to reach out to anyone I saw in a dark place. It gave me empathy for their sorrow and humbled me to show empathy rather than judge other mums.
I still have my anxieties and low days where I have to battle my way towards peace and joy, but now I do so openly. I invite others to see me vulnerable, weak, real, so that together, mums, dads, families, friends and all, can support each other, without fearing judgment or shame, but instead valuing our stories, validating our struggles and appreciating ourselves.
Anahi Brown, HHC, AADP, BSc is a certified wellness and lifestyle coach and journalist. She focuses on supporting people in reaching a balance in their lives and achieving health, happiness and wellness in the fast-paced expat life in Qatar. She was awarded as one of the 2015 Ooredoo Sheroes for her job with women going through Antenatal and Postnatal depression. You can find out more about her at anahibrown.com.