First joint society conference held for maternal mental health

Two CCSU societies joined forces on Wednesday in a bid to raise awareness and share knowledge around maternal mental health.

The first collaborative society study day was organised by Midwifery President, Maria Watkinson, and Psychology President, Becky Thomson.

Held in the Powell lecture theatre, guests spoke about their research and work around maternal mental health.

10:00 The first speaker was Lalita Sah, MPhil/PhD Candidate on her understanding of Mental Health of Pregnant Women in Nepal

Lalita has seen first hand the issues stem from maternal mental health in Nepal.

She said: “Women are more stressed in developing countries when going through pregnancy, the majority of them are anemic and have limited services available to them.”

A lot of the women, Lalita said, are more worried about their own health than that of their babies; like when they’re next going to be able to afford to eat.

The PhD Candidate said there are many factors that worsen the mental well-being of pregnant mothers in Nepal:

  • Permission from in-laws or husband to go to health check-ups.
  • Financial dependency
  • Language barrier/ illiteracy
  • Social norms – typical patriarchal society
  • Social pressure to birth a boy

Lalita herself didn’t tell some family members about her first-born being a girl when she found out, so as not to disappoint them.

Another striking factor that contributes to the poor mental health of mothers in Nepal is the lack of support from professionals.

Lalita told the Powell lecture theatre that doctors had said to her,

” We are medical doctors, these are not our problems.”

She explained that Nepalese health professionals can’t relate mental health with physical health.

This isn’t a surprise, as the first Nepalese mental health policy was introduced in 1996. At 3-4 pages long it focuses on clinical aspects only. 

Unfortunately, at the end of her presentation, Lalita said that the number of women struggling with maternal mental health in Nepal was increasing.

11:30 – 12:30 Break 
Up next was a talk from Dr Emma Svanberg and Caroline Ingman on the causes and prevention of birth trauma

Caroline and Dr Emma both work for their campaign ‘Make Birth Better’, and spoke about the trauma around giving birth.

Caroline started explaining that PTSD affects 1 in 25 women, or 42 thousand women a year, during pregnancy or after birth.

She also stated that PTSD increases 1-6 months postpartum, which is generally when mothers are discharged from services.

Another important point made, was that partners of mothers can experience PTSD at the birth of a child.

Examples were given of what PTSD after birth can look like:

  • Re-experiencing the trauma – flashbacks, nightmares, avoiding hospitals etc
  • Avoiding ones own child
  • Negative thoughts

“A lot of the time PTSD gets misdiagnosed as post-natal depression, and you may not realise it was PTSD until months later,” Caroline said.

At this point a video was shown of how your brain reacts and stores traumatic experiences:


More points were raised about the common misconception of giving birth as ‘the best day of your life’.

“Giving birth is largely seen as a positive experience in society, even celebrated, but it’s in the eye of the beholder,” Caroline explained.

At 1pm Dr.Emma Svanverg took over the presentation. 

“As a society, we’re all a bit traumatised by birth, so let’s talk about it,” she said.

The ‘mumologist‘ added that “there’s a disbelief of women’s pain” during and after childbirth. By this, she means psychological and physical pain.

One in five women experience childhood sexual abuse, which can add to birth trauma.

So, Dr. Emma said “everyone should be treated with respect” and “every word counts“.

At this point it was time for the audience to ask questions.

One audience member reacted to the principle ‘every word counts’; “my midwife joked that my baby couldn’t be my partner’s because his hair colour was so different, which then caused problems in our relationship.”

Another member of the audience gave thanks to the presenters for their campaign “Make Birth Better” because it highlighted issues of clinical negligence.

2:00 To end, Victoria Stirrup spoke about returning to work after maternal mental health issues from her own research and experience 

PhD researcher, Victoria Stirrup said that with her own experience of maternal mental health, she didn’t realise until well after her birth that she was probably depressed during her pregnancy.

It was only until her health visitor made an assessment some time after birth to find that she scored highly for postnatal depression.

She said: “the issue when returning to work after a mental health an absence is that you can feel excluded.”

In her research, Victoria found that when people go on leave for mental health issues “you don’t get a card, like you would if you were going for an operation. You get the odd text asking if you’re okay.”

Victoria believes there should be policies of reasonable adjustments, for those with postnatal depression when returning to work to minimise the stigma around maternal mental health.

Another good way, Victoria said, to ease out the stigma of maternal mental health in the workplace is to have ‘keep in touch days’.

2:45 End 

If you need to reach out about mental health, here’s a list of services of available around Canterbury.

Maria Watkinson, President of Midsoc shared her thoughts on the event.

She said: “I am really pleased that our first collaboration with PsySoc were so successful and I hope this paves the way for more events like this in the future.

“Maternal mental health is an important topic and one that we do not receive a lot of teaching on.”

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