Maternal depression is real. Sadly, it is under reported.
The perceptions of motherhood are different in every culture, and the experiences vary from one woman to the next. What remains evident from evidence on the ground is that not all mothers are happy mums.
While the arrival of a new-born baby brings bliss and joy to some, for others it is not all rosy, instead it is a burden of sorrow, and a trigger of painful thoughts and memories.
The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the situation, with travel restrictions and transport service suspensions giving expectant mothers mobility challenges.
Health experts say young mothers are more at risk to suffer from maternal depression.
Parliamentary portfolio committee chairperson on health, Dr Ruth Labode in an interview recently highlighted the need to treat maternal depression as an actual illness, owing to the increasing cases of mental health problems and suicides in the country.
She said expectant and lactating mothers were more vulnerable due to the hormonal factors associated with pregnancy and called for special policy framework that ensures that all women, including those in rural areas had access to counselling and other forms of support.
“These services must be available for both the urban and the rural woman. Maternal Depression is very real, especially amongst new mothers, and its consequences may be dire on HIV positive mothers as their health is more prone to deterioration,” said Dr Labode.
Some survivors of maternal depression have become beacons of light and are helping other young women to navigate motherhood pressures.
One such young mother is Thubelihle Moyo, an orphan, who after falling pregnant and becoming HIV positive contemplated suicide before being helped by a woman who took her in from sex work and gave her a second chance at life.
In Zimbabwe, while maternal depression remains underreported, inroads have been made in creating awareness and some organisations have partnered with local authorities and rural district councils to ensure more women have access to maternal health services.
Mentor Mothers programme is such an initiative that is helping a number of women, including former commercial sex workers such as Thubelihle who has undergone training to deal with maternal depression.
In Bulawayo, the Mentor Mothers programme promotes social change in basic child health and early childhood development, while also addressing the emotional, physical, and psychological health of the mother.
During this programme women undergo training in HIV/AIDS, early stimulation and play, maternal mental health, nutrition, basic health, child protection, and knowledge on coping mechanisms.
The Mentor Mothers programme reaches out to more than 50 000 mothers in the city including HIV negative young mothers battling with depression.
The sister in Charge at Luveve Clinic, Mrs Prisca Ndlovu sad the mentor mothers programme has brought a new lease of life to hundreds of women.
“Being a mother in these harsh economic times brings a lot of challenges, most of the mothers we deal with are unemployed and for some the father of the child may not be in the picture.
“There is still stigma in society, people still want to treat HIV like leprosy. So, this becomes a safe place, a comfort haven for so many people,” she said.
City of Bulawayo director of Health Services Dr Edwin Sibanda said maternal depression is not taken seriously although it is a serious condition.
“Both men and women suffer from depression for various reasons, however pregnant women may suffer from depression while they are expecting and after giving birth. Women with lower coping mechanisms may plunge into depression, while some end up contemplating suicide,” said Dr Sibanda.
Bulawayo City Council Gender Focal person Mrs Audrey Manyemwe recently said programmes such as the Mentor Mothers project assist in reaching out to the people often left out in society.
“Such support systems are necessary in life as you may find out that some of them may not have the psychosocial support systems such as family and community in general. Here they establish companionship and they will create their own sisterhood,” said Manyemwe.
The United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) states that in lower to middle income countries, such as Zimbabwe, approximately 20 percent of young mothers experience some form of depression during their pregnancy journey and even after giving birth.
However, the accurate figure of depression among pregnant and postpartum young women may be higher because many are not screened for symptoms of depression or are unaware of prenatal and postpartum depression.
The risk factors associated with clinical depression among pregnant and postpartum young women include dysfunctional family structures, low socioeconomic status, lack of family support, social isolation, history of physical and sexual abuse, partner neglect, and elevated stress levels.