As seeking help regarding mental health remains a taboo, and healthcare infrastructure in Kashmir remains inadequate, young mothers find themselves battling alone.
Srinagar: When Kashmir was in the throes of desperation, and depression post the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5, 2019, Samreen (name-changed) was unfazed. The sweet anticipation of motherhood, and thoughts of the baby’s arrival left her with no time for gloom and doom.
However, she was unprepared for the events that followed the birth of the baby.
“In October, 2019, I delivered my baby girl. I was more ecstatic because I was praying for a baby girl all along and my prayers were answered. But soon, joy turned into gloom. I never anticipated what was about to come,” she said.
Samreen felt an inexplicable darkness grip her, and a strange sadness washed over her heart.
Unable to understand her altered emotional state, she held the baby responsible for it, and even contemplated harming it. Unknown to her, she had developed postpartum depression.
“I cant forget those sleepless nights. I cried without any rhyme or reason. The thoughts of harm to my baby intruded repeatedly. I have had bouts of anger and irritability without any reason. I shouted at my parents and partner without knowing why. I knew I needed help but I felt I couldn’t ask for it,” she said.
The depressive symptoms continued for ten months till she finally sought help of a clinical psychologist.
“We need to work on making people understand that postpartum depression is a real thing and the feelings of the mother need to be acknowledged and that there is no shame in asking for help,” she said.
Samreen is not an isolated case. Shazia (name-changed) recalls how motherhood became a testing phase for her.
“I hit a deep, dark space where everything became meaningless. I used to cry for hours together as I struggled to form a bond with the baby. Sometimes, the self-loathing reached to such an extent that I felt I am doing a grave injustice to both my partner and baby,” she said.
Postpartum depression (PPD) affects one in every seven new mothers in Kashmir.
What begins as insecurity, usually within 30 days of the baby’s birth, rapidly expands to other symptoms that typically include sadness or anxiousness through the day that often worsens in the evening; crying spells; low self-esteem; lethargy and sleeplessness.
“Once you deliver a baby, more responsibilities come along. The physical and emotional demands of child bearing and child caring increase. Due to which, some women get stressed, anxious, irritable and confused, resulting in baby blues. The baby blues remain for first ten-fifteen days after the delivery. However, if it continues for more than two weeks, we can call it postpartum depression,” Isha Malik, Clinical Psychologist, who runs a clinic called MindSpa at Barzulla said.
Isha explains that the symptoms of postpartum depression include: suicidal ideation, thoughts of harming the baby, low appetite, crying spells, feelings of inadequacy, isolation, severe mood swings, difficulty in forging a bond with the baby.
“In 4 percent of the females, the PPD can develop into Postpartum psychosis. The symptoms can result in hallucinations, delusions, and intense suicidal inclinations,” Isha said.
The psychologist said most of the women with PPD don’t seek medical help.
“Mental health is already stigmatized in the valley, thus stopping women from reaching out for professional help. Further, with an exciting phase like motherhood, in which the mother is dealing with the newborn, with hormonal shift, and battling body-image issues, PPD is easily confused as normal baby blues,” Isha said.
Isha stressed that the shift should focus towards awareness on PPD.
“It is important to have honest conversations on the positive and negative aspects of motherhood. This will help the would-be mother develop a deeper understanding about what the future holds and work on fighting the stigma and sexism surrounding parenthood. The false bravado and the idea of being a perfect mother should go,” she said.
Seconding her, Dr Rumaisa Mir, Medical Officer at Sub-district hospital Char-Sharif said that post-partum blues are commonly reported, but not many women seek medication for “post-partum depression”.
“This can be gauged by the fact that hardly four to five patients report with PPD annually. Add to it, they report only when they have landed in full-blown depression. Until then, they are oblivious to the change in their mental state post-delivery,” Mir said.
Mir asserted that general physicians and gynaecologists should make it a point to educate the expecting mothers about PPD and why seeking help is important.
“Awareness is the key. Also, PPD is a clearly recognised medical condition for which professional help is important. It cannot be labelled as “being a bad mother”. Timely intervention including the psychiatric counselling and medication is important,” she said.
But as seeking help regarding mental health remains a taboo, and healthcare infrastructure remains inadequate to deal with the scale of the problem, young mothers find themselves fighting alone.