“Mental health is just as important as our physical health”: woman hopes to raise awareness about perinatal mental health

Published: Oct. 10, 2021 at 9:48 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Mental health has become a bigger part of everyday conversations, and now one Wilmington woman is hoping to shine some light on an increasing mental health issue for expecting and new mothers, along with their partners.

Sarah Hess is a licensed marriage and family therapist, and she has a special focus on women and their families that struggle with perinatal mood concerns. Hess said on average about 1 in 6 women struggle, and 1 in 10 men will also struggle with mental health battles in that time period before a baby is born, and soon thereafter.

“Mental health is just as important as our physical health. But, I think because it’s something that’s kind of invisible on a day-to-day basis and not something that people can really see as much, then it doesn’t get discussed as much,” Hess said.

Many people know about postpartum depression, but Hess said perinatal concerns are more than just that. “So now it’s been broadened to perinatal mood disorders to be more encompassing, but the research out there is still really limited and then, how much of it is under-reported as well? You know, because so many people don’t seek help, and so many people... There’s a stigma, people are embarrassed, people are ashamed, people don’t want to be viewed as ‘I’m a bad parent, what’s wrong with me? Why can’t I do this right?’,” Hess said.

The signs of someone struggling can include increased irritability, loss of interest in day-to-day activities, or even a loss of appetite. While they might be obvious signs, the bigger concern is for the children, and how the parent’s struggles might impact the child’s growth and development.

“It’s disheartening, especially to know that so many suffer in silence. You know, especially because with parenthood, especially with social media you see so many of the positive aspects, the happy times, the milestones, but you don’t see the struggles,” Hess said.

Hess is one of the few specialists in Wilmington with a perinatal mental health certification, so she’s hosting a workshop to educate more parents on how to work through these struggles with a focus on the baby’s future. For information on that workshop, click here.

The pandemic put even more pressure on expecting families as mothers went to appointments without their partner because of restrictions put in place due to COVID-19.

“It’s very much an emotional impact and lack of rescores, that makes it even more critical to have other resources, other supports in place,” Hess said. “There are different support groups so they can get connected to groups with other mothers who might be experiencing the same phase of life issues, they can get connected to counseling.”

“Because two thirds of couple’s report dissatisfaction in their relationship after they welcome a baby. The best gift a couple can give their baby is a strong emotional foundation.” This number is significant as Hess hopes to shine a light on this increasing mental health issue, specifically for those new and expectant mothers, along with their partners as they look to improve the baby’s future.

To get connected to a perinatal mental health professional, click here.

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