There is still very little recognition of clinical depression after childbirth – an illness that affects 20% of mothers in developing countries, according to the World Health Organisation.
India roughly sees 130 million births every year. If the situation continues, more and more women are likely to suffer.
Nandita, an IT professional from Bangalore began to hallucinate after her baby was born.
“I was not supposed to go out of the house. I was with the baby all the time. Everything was revolving around the baby. So it got worse,” she said.
It was lucky that Nandita identified her experience as not normal and reached out for help.
But according to The National Crime Records Bureau, over 20,000 young mothers, mainly housewives, kill themselves every year, making them the largest demographic in India to commit suicide. The figure is followed by farmers.
Professor Vikram Patel, co-director of the Centre for Chronic Conditions and Injuries at the Public Health Foundation, said: “It is an important question as to why female suicides in India are so high — 6 to 7 times higher than comparable age groups in Western Europe”.
The symptoms of depression in new mothers can be mild — like anxiety, crying spells, mood swings, lack of sleep. Others face difficulties in bonding with the baby, negative thoughts and hallucinations.
The triggers are many — from an unplanned pregnancy to an abusive or alcoholic spouse, pressures to have a male child and hormonal changes among others.
“Fifteen out of 100 women will have some significant mental health problem, either depression or very severe anxiety… So it is a huge problem if you look at the number of mothers in India,” said Dr Prabha S Chandra, Professor and Head, Department of Psychiatry in Bangalore’s NIMHANS.
For thousands of women, especially in villages, who go undiagnosed and battle child-birth related depression, there is now treatment under the newly launched PRIME project in Sehore.
The PRIME project, designed by Professor Patel, integrates mental healthcare with primary health care. But of the 29 states in India, only Madhya Pradesh has an intervention programme for neo-natal depression related problems, where all expecting mothers are screened.
Replicating this model may well be the need of the hour.